Maintaining multiple skills and interests is different from trying to do multiple things at once, or multitasking. Multitasking has been consistently found to lower productivity and work quality. (Contrary to stereotypes, it is just as bad for women as it is for men.) You have probably experienced the frustration of a workday in which you are busier than ever but constantly interrupted and thrown from task to task, and at the end of the day you feel like you haven’t accomplished anything.
Not surprisingly, multitasking has negative consequences for happiness. In one 2017 paper, researchers monitoring human subjects found that performing work designed to imitate multitasking made people less calm, less content, and more anxious. Similarly, writing in the Harvard Business Review in 2015, scholars at the University of Pennsylvania and Duke University found that over relatively short periods of time—a few minutes or an hour—changing tasks lowered happiness and made people feel less productive.
But when the UPenn and Duke researchers extended the time people could devote to each task, they found that the happiness effect reversed. As they increased the experiment window from an hour to a full workday, the participants began to derive greater happiness as task variety increased. The researchers’ conclusion: “Start by scheduling more varied activities into your days, weeks, and months and removing variety from your hours and minutes.”