Need to Improve Your Work-Life Interface? Don’t Think Multitasking Is the Answer

Posted by Matt Grawitch

In today’s market landscape, creating an effective work-life interface is essential as a way of managing stress. A recent poll in the UK found that more people ranked work-life balance as a top priority when looking for a new job (at 36%, the highest result in the poll) than they did a competitive salary (at 31%). Similar polls in the US and around the world continue to find that people crave a better interface between the work and non-work lives.

What does this mean?

It means that many workers around the world are struggling to keep the stress and demands of their work lives from spilling over into their home lives. Some organizations provide greater levels of flexibility (such as flextime or telecommuting) that permit employees to better manage and juggle their work and personal life demands. That can be an effective tool, if you (a) have access to flexible workplace practices, and (b) possess the personality and competency necessary to utilize them effectively.

Instead, though, some people try to ‘get more done’ by working on two or more tasks at the same time. We see it all the time. People talk on the phone while checking their email. People will be an active participant in a meeting and shift their attention back and forth between the meeting and information coming in on their smartphones. We affectionately refer to this as multitasking.

Is multitasking really an effective way of ‘getting more done’? The research on this topic says, unequivocally, NO! For example, I recently posted elsewhere that multitasking can decrease performance by as much as 40%.

In a recent study my colleagues and I completed, we found that people who responded to emails while checking their voicemail messages responded to 19% fewer emails that people who did not have the distraction of checking their voicemail messages. Furthermore, the multitasking resulted in a decrease of 18% in the accuracy of email responses. So, not only did multitasking slow people down, it also lowered the quality of their work.

Perhaps even more damning was the fact that multitasking resulted in increased levels of stress and negative mood. So, not only did performance suffer, but so did multitaskers’ well-being.

The conclusion we can draw from all of this is that multitasking is not an effective way to ‘get more done.’ It also is not an effective way of decreasing the stress that results from a poor work-life interface. All you do is end up less efficient and more stressed. I’m pretty sure that is self-defeating!

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