Multi-Tasking is a Myth

Multi-Tasking is a Myth

In a recent Instagram story, I asked architecture students from around the world whether they believed in multi-tasking and how they go about doing so. From a mixed array of answers, one stood out. This person said that they do more than one task but the second task is usually not that important. It raised a few questions - first of all, is a task even worth doing if it’s not ‘important’?

man wearing black and white stripe shirt looking at white printer papers on the wall
Photo by Startup Stock Photos on

Secondly, how many tasks can a person do at once? Now in this context, I’m not talking about patting your head and rubbing your belly. I mean work-related tasks that have are pretty important. You might even have deadlines for this task and they may involve a variety of mediums. Architecture students in particular have multiple deadlines during the year which gets even more hectic around the ‘dip’ period.

This is usually right before Christmas (if you’re in the UK), as there are a number of modules coming to an end or at a half way point. The typical architecture student then thinks ‘I should multitask and do X project whilst writing Y essay’. Apart from a number of logistical issues, (like trying to write whilst also draw?) it seems slightly pretentious.

After students overcome this dilemma, they set their standards even lower and try to pair easy tasks together like listening to a lecture whilst collaging. Sure, this seems harmless enough but both actions require different levels of attention. Not being able to make notes or concentrate on the lecture, or aimlessly cutting out objects for a collage, is going to make both of them pretty mediocre - which again doesn’t help anyone. But is the solution really multi-tasking?

Don’t Take My Word For It

This idea has been around for quite some time in the productivity space. In fact, Ali Abdaal’s Productivity Masterclass has an entire lesson on the myths of multi-tasking. And it’s not just a handful of people who are claiming that multi-tasking is simply something we tell ourselves to feel like we are being productive. In fact, “Research indicates that multitaskers are actually less likely to be productive, yet they feel more emotionally satisfied with their work, thus creating an illusion of productivity” according to an article called Psychology and Neuroscience Blow Up the Myth of Effective Multitasking.

But why do we do this? For architecture students, the academic year is basically just one big rollercoaster ride except it’s more like riding multiple rollercoasters at the same time. Often, the deadlines are poorly structured meaning that 2 days before a crucial deadline you’re likely to have a random lecture on the module for the next term which hasn’t even started yet. Stress, right?

So then we end up at a place where we think, ‘now I have to try multi-tasking and try complete all these projects at once’. In an ideal world, your modules may be linked and so there is room to work on them in parallel (which is still quite difficult). But the truth is that we are simply unsure of where to prioritise our energy and what kinds of things to work on in which order. This happens to me a lot. I often jump between tasks because I start to panic about what is really important for the next day or week.

Another reason we might multitask is because we tell ourselves that it is the only way of being productive and staying on top of things. If there is anything I’ve learnt the past few years is that the real solution is the complete opposite. Taking breaks away from architecture work and anything creative can be a massive help. The temporary disconnect allows you to regroup your thoughts and come back with a fresh approach so that you can tackle things one by one.

Think about it in a simple way; as much as it might seem efficient to brush your teeth and dry your hair at the same time because you wake up way too late and don’t have time for either, are you really going to be able to do both those tasks properly or even to a good quality? So why is it that when we are contemplating drawing a plan and putting together a collage, we totally forget about the quality of the work itself.

Let’s look at it through the lens of time. Yes, you might be able to ‘multi-task’ and finish two things within the hour and then finally go to that party only to realise the next morning that you could have worked a little bit harder and put in a bit more effort for both things. Or, you might just try planning it efficiently, without eating into your social life and aim to do the bare minimum or whatever is acceptable enough in those circumstances. Making a choice of which task takes the higher priority can be difficult and risky, but in this case you might just need a bit of reassurance or guidance from your tutors to help you stay on the right track.

If in doubt, I usually think about the timeline for the next couple of week. For example, if I know that I have a technology tutorial on Friday but a design tutorial on Wednesday, obviously I’ll try and complete any design work first regardless of how long it takes because I always have more time later on to focus on the other task.

💡But can you actually multi-task?

Short answer: not really.

After reading quite a lot of articles online, I’ll keep it short and let you know that it’s really just not possible for our brains to work on two thing simultaneously in this context. If you still feel that you’re different and you can multi-task, it’s more likely you’re just task-switching instead which is fine but it means your focus is also divided into two.

Looking at the bigger picture, I’m beginning to embrace the idea that productivity ‘hacks’ and ‘tips’ shouldn’t be the guide to how we live our lives or try to work more efficiently. It’s good to develop healthy habits and be more mindful of where you are putting your energy but if you clicked on this post expecting to hear the same 5 things ever other article like this will tell you then you’re in no such luck.

Instead of chasing productivity or mastering multi-tasking, shouldn’t we be asking ourself whether we actually enjoy the things we do and is it even worth our time in the first place? Multi-tasking is definitely a myth and the answer to your issues is often simpler than it may seem.

🌺 How to build better habits

I think the starting point to building better habits is usually to have a plan and a goal that is incredibly basic. Once you start to complicate it or overachieve it gets way trickier to stick to it. In fact, ingraining habits into your existing routine is the best way to go. So if you want to learn how to ‘multi-task’ or more likely just be able to focus on different projects at the same time, break down your current routine or experiment with different methods over a few weeks.

Recently I tried waking up at 6am for a week because I know I’m not a morning person yet I always find myself thinking ‘I wish I had more hours in the day’. Unfortunately this didn’t work out as I had hoped because I became tired all throughout the day and it carried forward to the next day which meant I probably did even less work than I usually do. Then one night, I just wasn’t tired so I decided to work on a project for the blog till about 2am. This pretty much confirmed that I just naturally work better at night and that’s okay too! (P.S. if you'd like to read more about experiments and habits I'm trying to build this year, sign up for my newsletter📩)

The important thing here was that not only did I experiment and try something new, but I recognised that I work best when I’m in the mood to work on specific things. I won’t talk about getting inspired or finding the perfect environment to work in because that should some naturally to each person.

If you’re desparate to figure out a better solution than multi-tasking, start by analysing your current habits and see where you can improve by just 1%. Starting off easy and then staying consistent for a long period time will let you get into the groove after which you can start adding on some more curveballs.

I’ll leave you with the thought that time management isn’t real, it’s really just about what you do with the hours in the day and instead of trying to manage your time you should be trying to manage your energy.

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