Breaking up with multi-tasking: how my time in quarantine is helping me move on from an unhealthy relationship
Over the last few weeks many of Americans, myself included, have launched into full-time #WFHLIFE. While some of us have been exposed to the occasional work from home day, I don't think anyone making the transition was quite ready for the challenges it would present. And while everyone’s experience with working from home is unique, my experience has led me to one conclusion. I need to stop multitasking. Here’s why:
Studies have shown that when humans try to multitask, our brain creates a type of selection “bottle-necking” and as a result, leads to time lost as the brain decides which task to perform. I don’t know about you, but I already feel like there are not enough hours in the day. So, the idea that multitasking is actually making me less productive is reason enough to stop.
Research has also shown that multitasking contributes to the release of stress hormones and adrenaline. This was my ah-ha. For the longest time, the days where I felt the most productive also happened to be the days that I felt the most stressed. I would finish a day trying to accomplish a million and one things physically drained and with a splitting headache. Realizing that this was not sustainable, I have started to rewire my brain and focus on the task at hand. Now, when I hunker down and start working on a task, I eliminate distractions. I turn off email banners on my computer, I put my phone on silent and I set a timer. Once the timer goes off, I allow myself to check my emails/text and see if anything urgent came in. If not, I set another timer and get back to the task at hand. So far, this is working, and nothing has gone up in flames. I am getting my work done, I feel just as productive and at the end of the day I feel a sense of accomplishment – not stress.
Adjusting my expectations
There have been many days in quarantine that are filled with good intentions to accomplish 100% of what I set out to do. Unfortunately, life has other plans. Living in New York City comes with many challenges, most of all space. On top of that I also am working from home with a two-year-old and a husband who is also working from home.
Can someone tell me why I started this quarantine thinking I needed to bake a loaf of bread twice a week? There is so much pressure on social media to “make the most” of the time we are stuck at home, but when you are already time poor those expectations start to feel like a burden.
I’ll admit, I initially had very high expectations for myself and a very glamorous vision of what working from home is like. It took about a month, but I have since lowered those expectations and that vision is now covered in peanut butter and jelly. And this is okay. I don't need to work out twice a day, read a new book once a week, start a blog, all while working full-time and taking care of another human. Coming to terms with this has helped me tremendously and when I do manage to do something for myself like read, I am focusing on doing it one chapter at a time.
There is no doubt in my mind that many of us are feeling overwhelmed by the new state of work. However, I do think that we will come out of this with a better understanding of what we want the world of work to look like. I expect that employees will become better advocates for themselves and employers will need to make adjustments accordingly.
As for me, I hope that my willingness to NOT multi-task carries into an office environment. I except initially it will be hard to not be distracted by my co-workers and will naturally find myself multi-tasking again, but just like I did with #WFHLIFE, I will focus on making it work one day at a time.
Sarah Green, Account Director