How Multitasking Can Work Against You When it Comes to Your Finances

in Financial Planning by

When I first had my twins, I thought I could do it all. I carefully crafted a plan to be self-employed by the time they arrived so that I could simultaneously be a stay at home mom and pursue my writing career with all the success and fulfillment that came along with it.

It seemed like the very best of both worlds, being able to watch my kids grow and develop all while growing my brand, fielding advertiser inquiries, signing contracts for writing jobs, and engaging with readers. People kept messaging me and saying things like, “You’re amazing! I don’t know how you do it!” but in reality, I was struggling. The multitasking that became an integral part of my life after having kids was suffocating me and making it difficult for me to keep track of my finances.

I remember being in the NICU, rocking one of my babies right after they were born, when it hit me that I didn’t pay my credit card bill. I checked my statement online, and there was already a late fee. Here I was, a personal finance blogger, who always writes about being on time with payments, and I’d made the same mistake. Granted, most people would give me a pass given that my children were literally a few days old and in critical care, but I wish I could say that was the only time I made a financial mistake while multitasking as a mother, wife, and business owner.

Multitasking is Hard on Finances

Let’s see, there was a late fee at the library because the thought of packing up both babies just to go return a few books was exhausting. There was a speeding ticket I forgot about completely and paid $75 on top of the ticket in late fees. And, let’s not even mention trying to organize the medical bills that just kept coming and coming and coming.

You see, we all think multitasking is a super power, but research shows that multitasking actually slows down our success rates. In fact, as the American Psychological Association reports, “Psychologists who study what happens to cognition (mental processes) when people try to perform more than one task at a time have found that the mind and brain were not designed for heavy-duty multitasking.” Additionally, an article in Psychology Today asserts that you could lose up to 40% of your productivity when you multitask.

It’s no wonder that professionals, who often have to juggle numerous responsibilities, can have a difficult time staying on top of their finances. The chart below shows that when you’re able to stay focused on a single task you have a far less margin of error:

switchingactivities

A Successful Case Study

In order to better understand the role of multitasking and how it affects our productivity and our ability to successfully handle our finances, I interviewed Alexa Mason, a well-known personal finance writer at Single Moms Income. For a long time, she supported her children on her freelance writing income alone and because she writes about money, she also was very skilled at managing multiple responsibilities at once. She is now married and works together with her partner to balance the responsibilities when it comes to managing their money. However with jobs, kids, and a house to take care of, it can be challenging for both men and women to stay on track when so many things demand their attention.

Alexa explains, “Multi-tasking when it comes to finances can be very harmful. I personally feel like working on too many financial goals at one time turns out disastrous if the systems aren’t in place…For me, the systems that keep my finances in order are automation. I have my retirement withdrawn from my bank account each month and any income I bring in over the amount I need for living expenses automatically goes into my personal savings. And by having only one major financial goal I am much more focused on accomplishing it so that I can move on to the next…You have to decide what’s most important and then you have to figure out how to get it done. Putting routines in place is critical.”

Multitasking Means Less Productivity

Whether you’re a CEO, a stay at home parent, or a recent college graduate, it’s extremely important to be organized when it comes to choosing the tasks you will complete that day.

For example, when my children nap, I’m far more productive when I know which task I’m going to complete during that nap ahead of time. If I sit there paralyzed without a plan and try to do 2-3 tasks at once all while checking e-mail, nothing gets done.

As the chart below illustrates, the more tasks you add to your plate, the more time you waste. Switching between tasks really eats at your productivity. Avoid feeling frustrated by simply focusing on one thing at a time.

projects_time_chart

Concrete Steps

If you feel like there aren’t enough hours in a day to accomplish your goals and manage your finances, here are some concrete steps you can take.

1. Make a list of financial goals, and decide to only focus on one at a time. Once one goal is finished, like paying off your credit cards, move on to the next goal.

2. Choose a day once a month to sit down by yourself or with your partner if you are married to go over your finances, pay bills, and move money to savings. Keep this day the same day each month. Look at your spending patterns, decide what you will change or keep the same moving forward, and reward yourself in a small way for a job well done.

3. Start each day by doing the task you are dreading the most. Whether you have to call a difficult client or start a very time consuming project, the rest of the day will seem easier once it’s complete.

4. Only make a list of 10 things or less to accomplish each day, and some of them must be easy to do, like vacuuming the floor. Any more than 10 and you’ll have a hard time getting it all done, which will can led to feeling frustrated and unsettled. Make this list before you go to bed each night so you know what needs to be done the next day.

Ultimately, there are definitely enough hours to accomplish what you want each day provided you prioritize your goals, stay focused, and limit the time you spend switching between tasks.

Once your life is in order and your goals are clear, you’ll be able to work smarter and harder when it comes to organizing your finances as well. So, instead of trying to send off your checks with bill pay while bouncing a baby on your knee and eating a power bar all at the same time, instead try to organize your day one task at a time and save the financial to-do list for when you have a quiet moment to focus on your goals.

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Catherine Alford

Catherine Alford is an award winning personal finance writer who contributes to several online publications including The Huffington Post, top personal finance blogs, and her own site, BudgetBlonde.com. She received a B.A. from The College of William and Mary and an M.A. from Virginia Tech. When she is not reading and writing, she is taking care of her young twins. Follow her on twitter @BudgetBlonde.

5 comments

  1. Kalie

    While I agree that multi-tasking at the practical level is less productive and we’re more prone to error, in some ways it’s not possible to work on one financial goal at a time. For example, right now we are trying to pay off the mortgage early, while investing for retirement and our children’s college education. And we are setting some money aside to pay for our next vehicle in cash. Maybe these are not the type of goals you mean, but finances are complicated and we are always talking about where to allocate our savings because we have a number of goals at one time.

    Reply
    • Cat@BudgetBlond

      I know what you mean and to each their own of course. I am always putting money in investments, college funds, and debt payments but I go through other phases where I do the minimum on others and really hyper focus on one goal. I always find it works best to really go for one big goal, and that is also what a lot of financial experts recommend too. You have to do what works for you thought!

      Reply
  2. Prudence Debtfree

    Your explanation of the pitfalls of multi-tasking make me think that simple, minimalist living has a lot to offer. We tend to think that by adding to what we have, we’ll be happier. But by cutting down and cutting back, we are able to have more singularity of focus and less stress.

    Reply
  3. David

    Interesting article. I am not sure I agree.

    Reply
  4. http://skywritingservice.com/blog/25-tips-how-to-multitask-successfully

    I’m sure that successful multitasking is possible, even if you’re always busy and don’t know how to properly manage your time. There is nothing inevitable in our life!

    Reply

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