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Since more and more people work remotely, psychological studies are emerging that dig into the real implications of bad work habits. And since lion’s share of schools and companies don’t teach us how to be an effective worker (only how to work), we are left to our own assumptions. Then come the bad habits. New studies show that multitasking is on the rise for remote workers and with it come some serious implications in efficacy, well-being, and personal health.

Quick-hopping back and forth between tasks, jumping on coworker questions, and emailing while half-listening during meeting all may be well-intentioned activities. But these actually wind up hurting your ability to provide the quality that you were hired to deliver—which ultimately means that you’re providing less value to the people who rely on you. Here’s why.

Multitasking physically harms your brain.

Particularly related to work in technology and media, multitasking in the digital age results in reduced grey matter in the brain of the worker. Areas related to cognitive control and the regulation of motivation and emotion were the most effected.

Multitasking can lead to general memory problems.

Chronic media multitaskers exhibit weakness in both working memory (the ability to store relevant information while working on a task) and long-term memory (the ability to store and recall information over longer periods of time).

Multitasking makes you less able to distinguish priority.

We can only get so much done in a workday and it’s deflating to know you spent the majority of your energy working on the wrong things. Multitasking not only diminishes the quality of the work you perform, it also ensures your judgement doesn’t have time to enter the picture as you jump from task to task.

Multitasking can make you walk into traffic.

This is figurative as well as literal. The distraction that comes with working on more than one pressing need at a time can lead to terrible missteps. Like the need to safely cross the street while responding to your boss’s urgent email. Or responding to a coworker’s question while importing critical data into your financial system. Both have the potential to wreak havoc if you don’t take a moment to give each it’s proper time and attention.

Multitasking hurts the quality of your production and your experience, and that of those around you.

Even if your coworkers don’t multitask like you do, you may be negatively affecting them. People who multitask during meetings have a much lower retention of its decisions and outcomes, but so do the people in direct view of them. This is why we hate other people texting on their phones when we’re at the movies: It’s distracting even when we’re not the ones doing the texting.

Multitasking can harm your work relationships.

Have you ever felt disregarded in an important conversation by your coworker glancing at email or their phone in the midst of it? There’s a name for this: technoference. Researchers and psychologists find overwhelming numbers of interpersonal relationships damaged due to these small distractions. This can lead to your coworkers distrusting you and your work.

Multitasking increases chronic stress.

The constant blitz of information that you process when multitasking leads to feelings of anxiety (see the point above about the inability to discern priority) which leads to a general increase in the experience of stress. And these days there is no shortage of information about the psychological and physical ramifications of stress. Not to mention the strain it puts on personal relationships.

Multitasking makes you less efficient and effective overall.

No matter how good you are at your job, as a human (not robots) you have a limited amount of energy and physiological resources each day. Spreading those resources out over many areas and expending extra energy by pivoting from task to task depletes both faster than focusing on one at a time. The quality of work also suffers when your mind is straddling multiple problems at once instead of putting the force of your intelligence into a single problem and solving it in a meaningful way.

Don’t be fooled by the idea that the quality you provide is sustained while you’re multitasking. Use these 4 tricks to make sure you are really giving 100% to the people who rely on you.

  1. Time block: This is the handiest trick data workers have. Block off time on your calendar to complete a task and hold yourself to that focus. This is essential for time management, and it leads to tasks being completed faster with higher quality.
  2. Work offline: Probably the scariest for remote workers, but an excellent habit to get into if you manage your time well. Literally unplug your ethernet or turn off your wifi. This stops interruptions from coworkers, other tasks, and personal interests (e.g. social media).
  3. Make a quiet space: In the open office plan age or in a busy house, ambient noise can stimulate the release of cortisol (stress hormone). This leads to reduced brain function, and higher distraction.
  4. Make a realistic “to do” list: Plan to accomplish a reasonable number of things in the day. Looking at a list of 20 things can seem overwhelming and lead many of us to procrastinate all of them.

Though these points are all around the how’s and why’s of working more effectively, technology can help a play a role. If you’re interested in how better business applications can help you and your teams do more with less, just contact us. A quick call can give us a lot of information and give you a better idea of what it would actually take to get better at what you do.