We’ve discussed the negative impacts of multitasking in my previous two blog posts, but as with everything in life, there’s often an exception to a rule. Science proves that multitasking simply isn’t probable (and certainly isn’t profitable for your business). But what about for those whose brains work a little bit differently?
It’s okay to multitask if you have ADHD or are neurodivergent. The term neurodivergence refers to anyone whose brain functions differently from the societally accepted “norm”. This certainly isn’t a bad thing—in fact, it is often a benefit. People who think differently bring innovative perspectives and can be a real asset to our workforce and society as a whole.
What Neurodivergence Can Look Like
In the last decade or so, it seems that many adults are finding that their energetic, hyper-focused, unfocused, or shy traits may be tied to neurodivergence. For instance, what has previously been attributed to a short attention span or excess of energy is now (more often than not) correctly identified as ADD and ADHD. Neurodivergence includes these diagnoses as well as anything that causes different thinking and behavioral learning patterns from what is typical to society, including dyslexia, hyperlexia, synaesthesia, the Autism spectrum, and avoidance or sensory processing disorders (among others).
How Does Neurodivergence Relate to Multitasking?
In previous blogs, I described the negative impacts of multitasking on your work performance and overall concentration levels. But, if you are neurodivergent, that might not be your experience at all. In fact, some people with ADHD, for instance, find that they benefit from a more stimulating environment.
So let’s be clear—neurodivergence matters, and it makes a difference in how people process and take in information. If you have ADD or ADHD, doing more than one thing at a time can actually have the opposite effect—for some, listening to music while working can help create inherent pacing in the brain preventing hyperfocus and time loss. For others, music can provide a boost in dopamine levels (something those with attention deficit disorders often struggle to maintain), which helps reduce restlessness or boredom. Yes, this is a contradiction to what I said in part two of this blog series, but it makes sense in this instance.
Traits associated with ADHD include hyper-focus, curiosity, creative thinking, and performing under pressure, and some studies indicate that multitasking could be a more accessible trait for people with ADHD, but the results are inconclusive. One ADHD entrepreneur and career coach, Laurie Dupar, says that the difference might reside in a greater desire to multitask over a natural proclivity toward multitasking. She notes that “interestingly, studies show that ADHDers are not that much better at multi-tasking than the general population but, in my experience, the difference is that they LOVE to multi-task, whereas for most this is perceived as stressful.”
Attention deficit disorders are fairly variable these days, and ADHD doesn’t present the same in everyone. Adults affected by ADHD might struggle with inattention and seek out differentiating and more stimulating experiences, as they tend to struggle with inattention and seek out novelty. For them, task-switching is natural, and something their brains are accustomed to. For people with ADHD, working on two or three projects at a time seems to make sense. One study put the theory of multitasking to the test, and the results showed that people affected by ADHD were no better or worse at multitasking, as researchers had thought, but they were less likely to be stressed out by interruption and maintained a more positive outlook about their work, even when interrupted, than those not diagnosed with ADHD.
For those with ADHD who want to successfully work on multiple projects at a time without hindering their performance, consider creating several different lists of tasks you must complete in a day versus one sequential list. This can include a list of daily “routines”, or tasks that must be completed every workday. Then, you can create a long-term list and a short-term list of tasks and toggle back and forth as necessary.
As with most things in life, every person is different, and many things can be situational. If you have neurodivergent tendencies, take time to learn what does and doesn’t work for you. Learn your habits and patterns and make note of when you feel most productive. While multitasking might not save time or even be possible for many of us, it’s important to pursue the path that works best for you.