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What’s the solution?

Experts advice taking a break and saying no to multiple tasks

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Dr Ottilia Brown, a clinical psychologist based in Dubai
Gulf News

Dubai: There might be a perception that multitasking helps people be more creative. When working under pressure, they come up with creative solutions, to finish the task. But, a study conducted by the University of Sydney shows that creativity might flourish when a person steps away from creative tasks for more passive ones. However, when they are constantly switching from one task to another, the creativity is affected negatively.

Dr Louise Lambert, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychology based in Dubai, agrees with the findings of this study. She further explains that when a person is focused on a task, taking a break from it is different than switching to something else, or multitasking.

She said: “If I am working on a research paper, I am focused on it. But, before I start to get tired, if I take a break, such as go for a run or wash the dishes, and then come back, that isn’t multitasking. This helps your productivity. But, it harms it when you make quick switches.”

So, if your phone rings in the middle of your research and you stop to look at it, you may think you are multitasking, but it’s a break in the creative flow, which harms productivity.

Dr Lambert said: “There is a little bit of skill involved in juggling many things at once. But, we are not as skilled or quick and we make mistakes.”

Dr Ottilia Brown, a clinical psychologist based in Dubai, explains that it is easier for us to perform certain tasks at the same time, for example walking and eating something or having a conversation with someone while we wash the dishes. This is because these are simple tasks. However, it isn’t the same for more complex tasks.

She said: “The prefrontal cortex is required to deactivate the rules for the first task and then activate the rules for the second, third or fourth task, depending on the number of tasks you are trying to do at once. This switching of attention not only slows us down but diminishes the quality of what we produce and affects performance negatively.”

So, what can one do to avoid such situations? In Dr Brown’s opinion, saying no to multitasking is a reliable way of improving productivity and ensuring that one is not overloaded.

She said: “It will be better for mental and physical health as well as productivity. If there are multiple important tasks at hand, it is advisable to prioritise them and to systematically focus on completing one task at a time.

“It may also be useful to use blocks or chunks of time. This enables seamless transitioning between several different categories of tasks. Minimise distractions as much as possible. Set an alarm for 20 minutes, focus intensely for that time on the chosen task, and then take a very short stretch or walk break.”

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