Multitasking: the root of all work stress?

I admit it. I'm a multitasker. 

This label used to hold a sense of pride, or at least necessity. As a journalist, on any given day I worked as a reporter, researching stories, an editor assigning or reviewing them and planning sections of a newspaper and a designer putting final pieces of the puzzle together. I collaborated with other writers, photographers, designers - all on deadline - to complete a couple dozen stories a week. What work life balance?

Efficiency always appealed to me.

What's the smartest, fastest way to accomplish a task? I'm probably thinking of it at any given moment. It's a quality that carries over into my personal life when running mundane errands and lends itself well to a career in PR, where questions and requests come barging in from all directions at warp speed. 

Multitasking pulls our attention in so many directions at home and work, could it be harmful?

Multitasking pulls our attention in so many directions at home and work, could it be harmful?


So multitasking began to earn a bad name in 2015, I took note. Could this cultivated skill be harmful? 

The Observer made a good case for it. 

We're juggling so much at work today - managing email, texts, Facebook messages, tweets and Instagram comments by the second. That goes double for managing a personal brand, and multiplies even further for those of us in the social media profession. 

Each time we switch gears on a dime - and I can barely count how many times it's required - we may actually be doing ourselves and our careers a disservice. According to The Observer:

"Asking the brain to shift attention from one activity to another causes the prefrontal cortex and striatum to burn up oxygenated glucose, the same fuel they need to stay on task. And the kind of rapid, continual shifting we do with multitasking causes the brain to burn through fuel so quickly that we feel exhausted and disoriented after even a short time."

Sound familiar? I thought so, too.

"Among other things, repeated task switching leads to anxiety, which raises levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the brain, which in turn can lead to aggressive and impulsive behaviour."

Scary stuff.

In Daniel J. Levitin's Observer article, he maintains that the very practice of multitasking requires that we make so many small decisions it often leads to physical and emotional symptoms. When major decisions are required of us, we may take them lightly out of exhaustion or stress. 

In Health, reporter Amanda MacMillan presented evidence that multitasking makes us less efficient. When handling more than two tasks at once, we're slower, more prone to mistakes - and more likely to be stressed out.

So what's the solution? 

I've tried - ahem - multiple avenues of managing the stress and responsibilities of work and life.

Among them - disconnecting tops the list. From meditation to exercise to any activity that takes me away from my beloved smart phone and requires a little focus - these seem to be key to a much-needed time out.

Considering that I was gifted not one but two grown-up, coloring books on my last birthday, and that trend is only growing, there must be something to this. I took it as a sign. To me it meant: slow down, be more thoughtful. Color within the lines once in a while - and creatively color outside them, too.

What are your thoughts on multitaskiing? Is it a necessity, or necessary habit to break?