The modern worker — myself included — takes a lot of pride in their ability to accomplish an improbable number of things per week, per day, and even per hour. And I’m not just talking about completing work tasks at an impressive speed. As a rule, we expect ourselves to race towards career milestones while maintaining happy families, thrilling social lives, artisan diets, new-fangled exercise routines, uniquely decorated apartments, and semi-casual ‘profriendships’ with colleagues, with enough time left over to stay on top of last-hour’s meme, book a flight, and bake our own custom cupcakes inspired by somebody’s Pinterest recipe — while phoning into that meeting with Japan.
We’ve made it our collective goal to create a race of super-cool, super-successful, super-innovative super-people, and it’s killing us. Here are four reasons your so-called work/life balance isn’t cut out for multi-tasking.
1. Scheduling Downtime is More Problematic than Proactive
Let’s just address the obvious thing first: that we have to schedule time to chill out is pretty telling of how accepting we are of being perpetually busy with both work and personal obligations at all times. And even if that’s just the way it is nowadays, treating our down time like an item on a checklist trivializes its importance and negates the whole idea of not being in go-mode. At the very least, if we have to pencil in things like bubble baths and video games, we should try to stay away from finite increments — instead of ‘one hour for Googling’, try ‘Saturday: do nothing in particular all day long’.
2. We’ve Lost the Ability to Prioritize
Recently we mentioned Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan’s notion of ‘mental bandwidth’, and the fact that by trying to do too much at once, we’re not making very good use of it. I doubt I’m alone when I say that, more times than I care to admit, tasks will utterly slip my mind because I’ve gotten started — but not completed — several things at once. It’s hard to prioritize when you have more than twenty browser tabs open, five reminders going off, a steady stream of emails and texts coming through, and dinner cooking on the stove. By blurring the line between career professional and kick-ass person, we’ve lost the capacity to distinguish between what needs to get done, what should get done, and what we want to get done. It’s like reverse idleness. Only by setting some boundaries — like no answering work emails after six o’clock — will we be able to reclaim our personal lives and in turn, boost productivity at work.
3. Delegation is Terrifying
Everyone has heard the adage about doing things yourself when you can’t trust other people to get it right, but some of us manage to take that and run far, far away with it. By forcing yourself to be accountable for everything from imperative projects to small, unimportant tasks, you’ll quickly lose sight of the power of your personal and professional networks. The reason that collaboration works so well to boost productivity is because it makes delegation the cause, not the effect, and it spreads the weight of the world across several pairs of shoulders. I once mentioned that asking for help is something we should all do a lot more of, if for no other reason than to keep fresh ideas flowing. In this case, it’s an incredibly useful way of reducing the need to multi-task.
4. You’re Last on Your List
This is perhaps the saddest of all the reasons why the modern work/ life balance approach isn’t cut out for multi-tasking — by having a daily to-do list that’s six miles long, we rarely get the chance to stop and ask ourselves if what we’re doing, and the way we’re doing it, is good for us, beneficial for our employers, the best choice for our friends and families, or even effective in the long run. Business burnout is a very real thing, and frankly, it’s shouldn’t be about how many things we can cram into a certain period of time; it should be about how well we do those things, and what real value they bring to our lives.
Dig this post? You might also like Multi-Tasking is Productivity’s Biggest Killer or these 6 Alternative Productivity Tips for Business Rebels.