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How Multitasking Harms Your Work/Life Balance

Patrick Davis

Written by

Patrick Davis


January 14, 2020

Do you multitask?

If so, how often? Are you conscious of it? And how does your attention know when to focus (back) onto one thing?

The truth is, whether we admit it or not, at some point in a given day almost everyone will multitask: We’ll have a conversation while checking our social media. We’ll chat with a client while checking email. We may even attend an important meeting while finishing up some last-minute notes on a case. And when we’re done, we feel confident that we’ve achieved a lot more than we would have if we had just focused on one thing at a time.

Sound familiar?

What most people, especially legal industry professionals, don’t realize is that multitasking is not as productive as they think it is. In reality, multitasking can do more harm than good in relation to your productivity and work/life balance.

In fact: you’re harmed by multitasking without even realizing it. However, there are concrete things that you can do to stop the damage.

Energetic Drains

Let’s start with a simple fact: It takes more energy to do two tasks than it does to do one task.

When it comes to multitasking in the law office, many lawyers, paralegals, and other legal professionals often believe that they are doing three, four, or five tasks within a very short period of time (if not all at once). However, it isn’t usually possible for anyone to do more than one thing at a time. Instead, what they actually do is switch between tasks very quickly.

For example, if you attend a meeting while checking email, what actually happens is that you spend five minutes listening to the meeting, five minutes emailing, and another five minutes switching your attention from one task to the other. This is an exhausting amount of work, if not for you then for your brain, which keeps switching focus.

In fact, numerous studies of evolving research point to the very real possibility that multi-tasking isn’t possible at all. Over time we’ve gotten better at switching between minor tasks more quickly, and with computers at our fingertips (and hidden beneath the conference room table), we believe that the extra computing power must mean extra ability to stretch time. But that’s probably not the case.

Instead, we’re sacrificing depth for breadth.

At the end of a day spent multitasking, you are just too exhausted to do anything “fun” during your personal downtime. By the time you get home to your family, you don’t have the energy to share a meal, have a conversation, or attend some event out on the town. Worse yet, you have naturalized habits of multi-tasking so that you’re checking your phone while your daughter tells you about her day, or are thinking about tomorrow’s budget meeting while trying to drift off to sleep next to your partner.

As a result, your energy is always split and you’re never truly off the clock.

Sound familiar? Doing it right now?

Costly Mistakes

The more tasks you attempt to do simultaneously, the more errors you’re prone to make. Mistakes can be costly for individual lawyers but also for the law firm as a whole. Just think about the energy it takes to transition mentally from one task to another and how you must once again get back into the “groove of” what you’re doing. This is where most of the mistakes are made—the place where you are switching between tasks.  

Why? Because on some level you are still at least partially focused on the task you just finished and not fully on the task at hand. Just think about it—how many times have you accidentally written down the name of a client you just spoke to? It happens often, right? Of course it does, this is just how the human brain works. But putting the wrong name down in a legal document because you’ve been multitasking could cost you a client or your reputation as a lawyer. Putting down the wrong information on the invoice can cost the law firm money. And the time you spend trying to clean up the mess you made can cost you your work/life balance by eating into your family time and your personal relationships.  

Now here’s where we could go into an easy sales pitch about how Smokeball organizes your information so that you don’t have to, but we won’t. For now, it’s enough simply to say that we get it, and we want to help all legal professionals get back to a balance that will help them regain and maintain a sense of whole self in and out of the office. In fact, this is our entire focus of our Software For Life campaign. 

Of course, doing so isn’t always about multitasking, but taken as one key example, when you multitask, you spend more of your personal time fixing the things you broke (or at least worrying about them) because you weren’t paying enough attention to the task you were working on. 

You’re Distracted

Multitasking is a habit just like any other. Just like drinking coffee every day or exercising or smoking or drinking alcohol—name any habit, it’s the same.  

Once you train yourself to do two, three, or even four things at once, you will do it all the time. And the negative impacts of this bad habit will impact you all the time. Your mind will train itself to always be thinking about doing that one extra thing so that you can get “more” out of the moment: taking photos of the kids playing instead of playing with them, writing to-do lists instead of doing them, taking on an extra case before you’re sure you have time to devote to it. 

The reality is that you’re not actually doing more when you multitask, especially in your personal life, you’re just being distracted. You check the news while your kid tells you about their day at school. You think about your brand new client while you’re having dinner with your friends. And you scroll through social media even while at the movie theatre.  

We’re always “on” and distracted no matter if we’re at work or at home. And this distractibility tells your loved ones that you’re really not present, and that maybe you don’t really respect them. And of course, that is not the message you want to send.  

What’s the Solution?

Life as an attorney, paralegal, or legal assistant is hectic. There really are not enough hours in a day. It’s the reason why so many people multitask—they’re trying to squeeze 30 hours out of a 24hour day.  

We believe Smokeball is one solution. Our software multitasks so that you don’t have to. While you’re creating emails and legal documents, it is recording your time spent working, logging that information, and plugging the necessary data into an invoice that is ready to be sent when you need it. Smokeball is a software tool for life, an extra set of hands that will free your energy and give you a guiltfree path to creating real work/life balance.  

When you want to create work/life balance, you don’t do it by multitasking and forcing your brain to drain extra energy, you do it by using the right tools. For lawyers, using the right software tools means that you can reduce errors, get more done, use machines to do your multitasking for you, and create a law firm culture with a commitment to work/life balance that even the most workaholic lawyer can get behind. 

We’d like to show you how to make it happen. Even more so, we’d like to show you how Smokeball can software for life—your life. Give us 15 minutes (you can even check your email while doing it). 

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