Are you a good multi-tasker?
Think you are awesome at your work because you’re doing two things at once? Nope.
You just make yourself look bad. Or worse – stand to disappoint others and yourself.
We think multitasking is good or, at best, necessary, to help us be “productive” and get as much done as possible. Multitasking makes us feel very busy, like we’ve been productive. So why are so many of us strangely panicked at the sight of our scantly completed to-do lists?
Because multitasking is a constant interruption – a constant distraction.
Multitasking Is A Myth
Our brains are not capable of focusing on multiple tasks at once. They simply aren’t. We think they are, but what’s happening is your brain is jumping back and forth between the tasks, focusing briefly on one at a time.
Ever work on your computer while watching TV? You are asking your brain to split its attention and it can’t do that. According to Dr. Susan Weinschenk, multitasking isn’t even the right word. What really happens is task-switching, and it takes more time to switch tasks than stick with them until you finish.
How Multitasking Harms Us.
1. Multitasking Is Damaging Your Brain.
Not only can our brains not make it happen, but they get damaged when we try to force them. Multitasking brings on higher levels of stress. It’s cognitive overload, and it dulls our brain and our reaction times.
According to a study at the University of Sussex, constant multitasking actually damages your brain. They found that people who regularly multitask have lower brain density in the region of their brain responsible for empathy, cognitive control and emotional control.
So no. Don’t multitask. Don’t damage your brain.
2. Multitasking Makes You Less Productive.
If you’re convinced that multitasking makes you super-productive, you’re super wrong. It just means you backtrack a lot, because every time you switch tasks, you have to repeat a bit to find out where you last left off. How many times have you had to re-do something because you can’t remember where you left off?
We think because we’re good at switching from one task to another it makes us good at multitasking. Studies have found that multitasking reduces your productivity by 40%. Wow!
3. Multitasking Makes You Dumb.
Sounds harsh, but repeated exposure to multitasking hurts your ability to continue learning, and can even cause you to lose ground. A University of London Study found that multitasking, when attempting to do cognitive tasks lowered IQ scores as much as if study participants has used marijuana or stayed up all night. All of that multitasking is reducing your intelligence. It makes you lose the ability to know what is important and what isn’t.
4. Multitasking Lowers The Quality Of Your Work.
Multitask? Your work suffers. Terribly.
A study any the National Bureau of Economic Research revealed that multitasking reduces worker performance, makes projects lasts longer, and creates that panic-inducing backlog because your to-do list isn’t getting done.
You make more errors when you switch between tasks than if you do one task at a time. Multitasking ultimately leads to being pressed for time and makes you cut corners. And that’s when sloppy things happen that get you in trouble.
5. Multitasking Reduces The Ability To Remember Things.
This is dangerous for parents who need to recall multiple appointments and have endless to-do lists. Study after study has shown that when you multitask, you lose the ability to remember what you were doing. Ever found yourself walking into a room and you have no idea why? Have you used the trick of going back to where you started to trigger your memory? This takes more effort and time.
What Should You Do About It?
Break the habit. Multitasking is a terrible habit to get into. It becomes pure distractions without the pretense of even “tasking” after a while. Understanding the fallacy of multitasking is important to getting back on track. There are a few things you can do to combat the multitasking problem.
1. Mix your activities correctly. If you must do two things at once, press on with the right mix of simple and complex. Combine simples physical tasks that are on output with complex cognitive tasks that require thinking and judgment.
Go for a walk and get your presentation outline organized in your head. Take with a client while making a cup of coffee. You get the idea. Look at your list and match the auto-pilot tasks with the cognitive ones. Never try to do two complex cognitive tasks together. Won’t work.
2. Turn things off. Turn off your phone so the beeps, rings, and buzzes don’t distract you. Turn off browser notifications. Turn off email notifications. You can get to all those things later. You don’t need them now!
3. Choose to be “present and mindful” in the task at hand. If something pulls your attention away from the task, choose.
If I’m sending email and my daughter slides permission slip under my nose, I can choose to try to send the email and sign the permission slip at the same time. But we know this isn’t possible. Or I can be mindful and choose which task is more important right now. I choose my daughter. I ask her to remind me about my email when we’re done with the permission slip. This is just one example of reminder strategies you can use to get you back to your original task.
4. Challenge Yourself! Want To Squash The Unsettling Feeling From Juggling Too Many Things?
Try a week without multitasking. Be aware. Some eye-opening realities will surface. Notice:
- Your stress and anxiety level and how they change.
- If you are getting more done.
- What things were wasting your time.
- What changed about the way you interact with others.