At first glance, multitasking or rapid task switching may seem to be the best ways to get things done faster—but are they really? Before we answer that, let us first define what these terms actually mean.
Multitasking consists of doing two or more jobs in parallel. To give you a better idea of how it works, let me tell you a little bit about how I make peanut butter and oatmeal cookies. I start by roasting the peanuts, and while I am waiting for that task to finish, I start mixing all the other ingredients in a separate bowl to save time. In this case, I am essentially doing two tasks at the same time.
Rapid task switching, on the other hand, is exactly what its name suggests. It involves jumping back and forth between two or more tasks. Take boxers, for example. They are always switching from reading their opponent’s movements to dodging and blocking punches to looking for openings to launching attacks of their own.
In the first example, multitasking is of course the best way to finish faster. In the second one, rapid task switching is crucial for victory. For virtually everything else, however, single-tasking, or the process of focusing 100% on one job at a time, is your best bet, because:
You finish each task faster
The brain is not designed to excel at either multi-tasking or rapid task switching. In fact, studies show that it takes four times longer for it to process new information and recognize new things. This means that constantly shifting between two or more tasks adds more to the total time you need to finish.
By single-tasking, you effectively eliminate all the extra processing time your brain needs and get each task done much faster.
You retain information better
Experts say that multitasking and rapid task switching can hurt your memory—and this can translate to reduced productivity in the long run. You see, by constantly glossing over tasks, you minimize your ability to pick up and retain crucial information like patterns that could lead to better efficiency and even mastery, which ultimately allow you to accomplish way more in less time.
You avoid making mistakes
Having to redo tasks not only takes up time, but it also kills your momentum and drains your energy as well. And even if you can finish your tasks quickly, if the quality of your final output suffers, then you’re still not being productive.
Real productivity comes from getting things done quickly while still maintaining an acceptable level of quality—and single-tasking gives you the focus needed to do just that. Keep in mind that you only have a limited amount of attention, and the more things you spread it out on, the less each one gets.
Single-task whenever you can
Long story short, there are situations where multitasking and rapid task switching is essential. For everything else, however, it is way better to focus on a single task at a time because it allows you to get more done and with much better quality too!
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