Perils of multitasking : The Tribune India

Perils of multitasking

It’s a sign of the times that being super-busy is seen as a measure of success. As it takes a toll on health, experts lay stress on importance of work-life balance

Perils of multitasking

It’s a sign of the times that being super-busy is seen as a measure of success. As it takes a toll on health, experts lay stress on importance of work-life balance.

Renu Sud Sinha

When Delhi-based Kunal (25) joined his first job after MBA, initially the competitive atmosphere and a multitasking culture generated an adrenalin rush but soon it started causing mental health issues. He became prone to irritation, mood swings and anxiety. “We were given multiple projects with simultaneous deadlines. There was undue pressure to not only meet deadlines, but sometimes submit even before it. Success is over-celebrated and not meeting targets invites belittling. Corporates want robots. My behaviour was affected too. It started affecting relationships with my family and my partner. I had to seek counselling, eventually,” adds the youngster.

Unintended fallout

  • Interferes with working, long-term memory
  • Increases chronic stress
  • Results in confusion and anxiety
  • Associated with attention lapses and forgetfulness
  • Affects productivity, motivation and mood

Corporates promote the culture of multitasking and it’s affecting a whole generation, says his therapist, psychologist Ashita Mahendru. “Companies may hold motivation workshops but these are more about coping with pressure rather than guiding about prioritising projects. They never encourage mono-tasking,” she adds.

The National Institutes of Health, US, defines multitasking as trying to perform two or more complex tasks concurrently, which leads to repeatedly switching between tasks or leaving one task unfinished in order to do another.

We live in a culture where being busy is seen as a sign of success. “So much premium is put on being productive all the time that even if someone wants to take a break or does not want to work five days a week, they are labelled as lazy,” says Pooja Priyamvada, a Delhi-based psychologist.

Initially people do it but, eventually, the performance is affected as most are not able to focus. “Poor performance leads to a negative feedback that results in low confidence, anxiety, even depression. Many quit, some switch jobs. But without recognising the problem, a similar work scenario causes the same problems again. There is no work-life balance, no leisure time. Burnout is inevitable. Support systems are crumbling or absent. Stress affects mental and physical health as immunity is compromised,” adds Mahendru.

Priyamvada agrees. “Multitasking leads to many issues because you are not fully present anywhere. From affecting personal relationships to professional ones to sleep disorders, it disturbs many aspects of life. Imagine your mind to be a computer screen where 20 tabs are open. After a while, you lose track as it is not possible to focus on a single task. Productivity suffers,” she adds. A study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance says multitasking is less efficient because it takes extra time to shift mental gears every time a person switches between tasks. Many other studies suggest that multitasking causes us to make more mistakes, retain less information, and change the way our brain works.

There are many unrelated symptoms, including physical exhaustion, unexplained pains and aches, says Faridabad-based psychologist Tanu Shree Singh. “The work pressure is so much that they belittle or ignore self-achievements. Unfortunately, many seek help only after a breakdown.”

“Even students have not been spared of the perils of multitasking. Some aspirational parents force kids into a host of activities. That can also cause burnout. In such a scenario, there is a general lack of interest in everyday things; there can be under or overeating; studies are affected, scores fall,” she adds.

There is a misconception about women too that they can multitask better than men. It only adds to the myth of the super-woman as well as expectations and pressure of unattainable goals, says Singh.

Gurugram-based Anjali Kukreja (31) has been a victim of this misconception. “I had always seen my mother taking on multiple responsibilities simultaneously. After marriage, I unconsciously tried to imbibe a similar role. Multitasking, whether at home or work, became a personality trait. Eventually, my health was compromised as I suffered from panic attacks and anxiety and had to seek therapy,” she adds.

Realising and accepting that multitasking has become a problem is the first step towards recovery, says Mahendru. “While breaks are crucial, what’s most important is clearly communicating your preferences.”

A slowdown is already happening, says Tanu Shree. “Many youngsters are adopting mindfulness, finding their focus in being here and now and above all, learning to say ‘No’ to multitasking, whether in personal or professional lives. From FOMO, the young have moved to living in the moment.”

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