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The Health Hazard of Multitasking and How AI Can Help

Multitasking is an essential skill in today’s supercharged working environment. It’s common for workers to juggle many responsibilities together because of the nature of their jobs. The constant context switching is a coveted skill, yet it’s known to do more harm than good in the long run. While you feel like you’re getting more done in less time, you also increase the risk of more errors and less focus on the job. In this article, we’ll discuss the concept of multitasking, how it impacts your health, and how you can do it effectively using AI tools.

What is multitasking?

Multitasking is doing multiple things simultaneously or in rapid succession without breaks. It's a fairly common practice in today's workplace, as many professionals juggle different responsibilities regularly. At the outset, it might seem like an excellent way to increase productivity, but it's known to have adverse effects on human health. Plus, studies show that it's not an effective practice. The Anatomy of Work Global Index 2022 report found that 52% of knowledge workers typically multitask during virtual meetings, and more than a quarter of them miss actions and updates. It shows the dire state of what was once considered a highly effective method—and indicates the need for innovative technologies or methods to resolve this issue.

How does multitasking impact your health?

There are several negative effects of multitasking, from high stress levels to long-term memory problems. For instance, a 2014 study found that media multitasking, the practice of consuming different media forms concurrently, is associated with lower gray matter density. Gray matter is responsible for vital functions like memory retention and emotional regulation. So, if you multitask, you tend to be more irritable and take more time to do things.

On the other hand, there's another way to measure the impact of multitasking. Kevin Madore, a neuroscientist at Stanford University, says you can do this by measuring "task switch costs." This cost refers to the loss of accuracy when switching between a number of tasks. For example, if you can calculate at a 99% accuracy rate, over time, that number reduces. It can become 98.7%, 98.4%, 98.1%, and so on.  It slowly chips away at your working memory and long-term memory. In 2020, Madore's team found that those prone to chronic multitasking are more likely to be forgetful, remember incorrect information, or have trouble recalling important details.

Neuropsychologist Cynthia Kubu says, “The more we multitask, the less we actually accomplish, because we slowly lose our ability to focus enough to learn. If we’re constantly attempting to multitask, we don’t practice tuning out the rest of the world to engage in deeper processing and learning.” The constant context-switching eventually takes a toll. Even when you move from one task to another with minimal breaks, the human brain doesn't have the time to recover from the previous one. 

5 tactics for managing multiple tasks effectively

Multitasking is a highly revered skill for one reason: It helps people get more things done faster. It’s common for working professionals to juggle multiple projects simultaneously, irrespective of their designation or experience. The fast-paced nature of all industries and increasing demands placed on workers these days warrants the need to be good at this skill. But that doesn’t mean all is lost and there’s no way to manage different tasks without impacting your health. Here are five strategies to become more efficient and productive while minimizing multitasking in the workplace:

Create a daily work schedule

It’s hard to know what to work on without a clear-cut schedule that dictates your routine. Instead, create a to-do list using pen and paper or your favorite productivity app and stay focused. Visually map out your day, set realistic goals and timelines, and limit the number of things you do daily. This approach helps you break down your day into manageable chunks and avoid multitasking.

Use the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method created by Francesco Cirillo, a productivity consultant. It involves breaking down your work into short 25-minute bursts of work followed by 5-minute breaks. While it was originally developed for university students to increase their productivity, now it's one of the most popular methods to get work done. You can either use free Pomodoro timer apps or set your own alarm to finish tasks in a short period. It can limit distractions since you're time-bound, enhancing productivity.

Prioritize tasks using the Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix is a powerful tool designed to assist individuals in prioritizing tasks by breaking them down into four categories: 

  • Urgent
  • Important
  • Not Urgent
  • Not Important

You can identify which tasks should be tackled first according to their priority level. Based on your deadlines and urgency, categorize them, and you'll have a ready-made to-do list to focus your efforts on. You can keep or delegate tasks depending on where they fit in.

Eisenhower Matrix

Plan your meetings carefully

A report by Reclaim found that workers take part in 25.6 meetings on average each week. That's almost five meetings in each 8-hour workday. If you’ve ever been in a meeting thinking it could’ve been an email, practice mindful planning instead: Prioritize business-critical meetings that need "physical" input from each participant. For instance, if you're reviewing a sales deck for your next meeting, that can be done asynchronously instead, but if you're training another team member for their next sales call, create a meeting.

Keep the meetings short so that participants don’t mentally wander off. Have a clear objective and ensure that everybody's on the same page. These simple practices can ease the burden on your calendar.

Invest in AI-powered tools

When you're multitasking, you're functioning under the assumption that you're a machine. Why not let an actual machine ease the load? Several artificial intelligence (AI) powered tools that automate specific tasks are available in the market.  For instance, you can use an AI note-taker to capture meeting notes or an AI writing tool to draft emails. Ultimately, you benefit from removing the cognitive load these tasks require because it leaves you space to focus on more important things.

Artificial intelligence tools that make multitasking easier

While you may be unable to context-switch constantly, tools can. Here are six tools to help:

1. Supernormal

If you're in multiple meetings daily, remove the cognitive load of taking notes using Supernormal. This AI-powered note-taker prevents multitasking during sales calls and meetings. 

By capturing, transcribing, and highlighting key moments from the call, the app allows users to focus on the discussion rather than trying to take notes or remember important details. It improves your concentration and retention. Plus, you have a backup for any details you might've missed—a must-have tool if you're in meetings often.

Supernormal - GPT4 Your Meetings

2. Freedom

We've all been in a position where we want to check our LinkedIn notifications during work. Next thing you know, 45 minutes have passed and you're hoping to regain lost time. Freedom solves that issue. You can use it to prevent multitasking by blocking apps, websites, or the entire internet on various devices, including iPhones, iPads, Windows, and Mac computers. Limit access and create focus sessions to be "free" from distractions. Plus, you can access lo-fi music tunes and automation features to schedule sessions.

Freedom’s core features

3. Sunsama

Daily planning is key for a focused and more productive you. Sunsama is one such daily planning tool that helps users organize and prioritize tasks based on their preferences. You can integrate it with tools like Slack, Trello, and Google Calendar to stay on top of your schedule. Sunsama allows users to focus on tasks without switching between multiple apps. Plus, you can use a tool like Supernormal to take notes and add them to your Sunsama dashboard.

Sunsama’s dashboard

4. Calendly

Are you spending too much time scheduling meetings instead of being in them? Use Calendly to automate the process. It allows users to share their availability and schedule meetings using a single link, eliminating the need for back-and-forth via emails. It reduces the time and energy spent on these tasks, giving you more time to do more productive things. Plus, it has several collaboration and administrative features that give you complete control over your schedule. For instance, time-block your calendar for deep focus sessions, which closes those slots on your calendar.

Calendly’s automated scheduling feature

5. Zapier-Open AI integration

If you’re looking for multi-tool integrations, Zapier is the go-to tool for automating across your tech stack. Depending on your purpose, you can connect Zapier, Open AI's API, and any other app. For instance, if you want to generate an email response every time you receive an email, connect Open AI, Gmail, and Zapier. Every time you receive an email, ChatGPT can write an email draft and save it for your review. The goal is to automate routine tasks and reduce distractions. Knowledge workers can focus on higher-level tasks that require more cognitive effort and creative thinking.

An example of different automated Zaps you can create using Zapier

Embrace AI and remove the need for multitasking

Ultimately, scientific research dispels the myth of multitasking, and it's clear that context-switching lowers productivity, impairs focus, and reduces task performance. So embrace AI tools to boost productivity and regain focus for more critical tasks.

As meetings are a massive issue for most professionals, leverage note-takers to reduce cognitive load. Tools like Supernormal automate the process by capturing notes and summarizing action items for you to tick off, so you don't have to switch between taking manual notes and actively listening to your colleague/customer. With a ready-to-go summary and the ability to share that data with all stakeholders, you always have a backup resource.

Meeting multitasking without impacting your health is now a possibility. Sign up for Supernormal for free today.

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