There hasn’t been a busier time in the history of mankind than today’s fast-paced digital world. Every day, we’re constantly barraged by an infinite stream of information, emails, and social media notifications, while trying to keep up with demands from work, family, and friends. Multitasking seems like the norm of everyday life now, but in reality, is it possible to multitask and still do things the right way?
Our response to the overwhelm of trying to handle so many tasks simultaneously has been to do more than one thing at a time. We respond to text messages while completing important projects, send emails while watching TV shows, and scroll through social media feeds while chatting with friends and family.
Is it possible to multitask in this way? Even though it may seem like we’re getting a lot done, multitasking could cost us precious time and energy.
Here are 12 scientific reasons why you should stop multitasking today.
1. It Kills Productivity
Each time we switch from one task to another, there’s a cognitive cost that hurts our productivity.
According to Gloria Mark, professor in the department of informatics at the University of California, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to a task after an interruption.
We’d like to think that it’s possible to juggle multiple tasks at once, but it comes with the cost of reducing the quality and quantity of attention applied to a task.
As a result, your productivity is less than that of someone who focuses on one task at a time.
2. It Could Endanger Your Life
There are certain situations where multitasking may endanger your life.
For example, chatting on the phone while driving or texting whilst crossing a busy road could significantly compromise your ability to maintain safety.
Multitasking isn’t worth your energy or time, and especially not your life.
3. It Could Damage Your Brain
A study by researchers from the University of Sussex (UK) compared the amount of time people spent on media devices, like texting and watching TV, to their brain structure. The MRI scans of their brains showed that participants who multitasked more often had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, the brain region responsible for empathy and emotional control.
According to the lead researcher, neuroscientist Kep Kee Loh:
“I feel that it is important to create an awareness that the way we are interacting with the devices might be changing the way we think and these changes might be occurring at the level of brain structure.”
4. It Could Decrease Intelligence
A study conducted by the University of London found that adult participants who multitasked experienced drops in IQ points to the average range of an 8-year-old child.
Imagine the effects of writing an important paper or email to a client while responding to texts on your phone. There won’t be much difference in the quality of your work and that of an 8-year-old child.
If you’re struggling to deliver high-quality work on a consistent basis, make sure to eliminate distractions in your environment and avoid multitasking. This will help to raise the quality of your work.
5. It Causes Chronic Stress and Anxiety
There are many causes of stress and anxiety, but one of the major culprits is multitasking.
When we constantly switch between tasks, cortisol, a stress hormone, is released in our body. This hormone creates stress, tires us out, and leaves us mentally fatigued.
Then, anxiety builds up, and we act impulsively, which creates more stress. The cycle then repeats itself, creating a constant state of stress and anxiety.
If you’re already feeling overwhelmed and stressed out while trying to be productive, check out this video for some guidance:
6. It Worsens Decision-Making Skills
Multitasking also hurts your ability to make good decisions. Switching tasks requires that you spend precious energy deciding what to do or what not to do.
For example, if you’re sending important emails to your boss while responding to text messages, you’d have to make decisions immediately:
How do I respond to this email? Should I respond to this text now? Should I take a break from work?
These decisions deplete your willpower muscles and causes decision fatigue, a psychological term referring to the deterioration of good decisions after making a long series of decisions.
In addition, when an important scenario arises for you to practice self-control or delay gratification, you’re more likely to act on impulse, and you won’t have enough willpower to take effective action towards the important things in your life.
In effect, multitasking causes a downward spiral of bad decisions that cost time, energy, and money.
7. It Hurts Learning
A study published in the journal Computers and Education found that, on average, participants who used Facebook while texting and doing schoolwork had a lower GPA and grades than those who didn’t. According to the researchers:
“Human information processing is insufficient for attending to multiple input streams and for performing simultaneous tasks.”
Quality attention is crucial for learning, but multitasking reduces our ability to focus on the task at hand. As a result of low levels of attention, learning effectively is much harder than otherwise.
8. It Kills Focus
According to neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, when you multitask, parts of your brain reward you for losing focus and switching tasks with a rush of dopamine. The same parts of the brain that help you stay focused on a task become trained to look for distractions.
Therefore, when you’re working, you’ll feel anxious to check your email and social media to search for a dopamine rush from something else.
Once multitasking becomes a habit, it becomes very difficult to break the cycle of the dopamine rush linked to lack of focus and low productivity.
If you’ve fallen into the black hole of constant distractions, check out this Lifehack Fast-Track Class to learn how to refocus: Overcoming Distractions
9. It Kills Creativity
Imagine this scenario:
You’re writing an important paper, and an incoming email from a work colleague pops up on your phone. You stop writing and respond to the email.
When you return back to writing, your brain has just spent valuable energy refocusing on the task at hand that could have been used for creative thinking. As a result, not only have you wasted energy, but also creative juice for your work.
Creative thinking requires a good level of concentration and attention. The problem with multitasking is that innovative ideas that crossed your mind could pass you by if you don’t stay focused.
10. It May Reduce Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions, in addition to the emotions of others. In general, emotional intelligence includes core skills, like emotional awareness, the ability to apply emotions to critical thinking and problem solving, and the ability to manage emotions.
According to Travis Bradberry, an emotional intelligence expert, multitasking may damage a part of the brain—the anterior cingulate cortex that is responsible for emotional intelligence, a trait found within 90% of top performers.
Multitasking reduces the speed and quality of work and worsens concentration and attention to detail. Additionally, multitasking in social gatherings may be an indication of low self and social awareness, two crucial emotional intelligence skills for success at work.
11. It Causes Overwhelm and Burnout
Ever wonder why you feel constantly tired, even after a good night of sleep or a long vacation?
The constant switching between tasks requires a lot of attention and energy. When your brain shifts attention from one task to another, the prefrontal cortex of the brain loses oxygenated glucose, which is required for staying focused on tasks.
The more tasks you switch between, the more oxygenated glucose your brain burns. After a short period of time, you’ll feel overwhelmed and tired, because of the loss of nutrients in the brain.
12. It Can Harm Memory and Concentration
New York Times bestselling author and neuroscientist Daniel Levitin suggests that multitasking could damage our brains even more so than smoking marijuana.
According to Levitin, the main ingredient in marijuana, cannabinol, negatively affects the same receptors in the brain responsible for memory and concentration. And multitasking could cause greater cognitive losses.
Next time you’re about to multitask, think of the similar effects of smoking marijuana. If you wouldn’t use drugs while completing an important task, then why multitask?
So, is it possible to multitask and still be productive? According to research, the simple answer is no, as multitasking negatively impacts our productivity across the board. Multitasking is a bad habit that has long-term, harmful effects on your health, well-being, and productivity.
However, there’s hope if you take charge of your life today and decide to pay attention to a single task each time it presents itself.
When working on important tasks, eliminate as many distractions as possible, including your phone, email access, and people. Every day, create time blocks of 10 to 30 minutes for focused work. Take short breaks every two hours to recoup your energy and regain focus.
Most importantly, do one thing at a time, and you’ll be productive for a lifetime.
More Tips on Multitasking
- Forget Learning How to Multitask to 10X Your Productivity
- So You Think You Can Multitask? Think Again.
- 9 Tips on Multitasking Management That Will Improve Your Productivity
Featured photo credit: Andreas Strandman via unsplash.com
|||^||Gloria Mark. The Cost of Interrupted Work: More Speed and Stress|
|||^||PNAS: Cognitive control in media multitaskers.|
|||^||PLoS One: Higher media multi-tasking activity is associated with smaller gray-matter density in the anterior cingulate cortex|
|||^||UCL: Integrating knowledge of multitasking and interruptions across different perspectives and research methods|
|||^||PNAS: Extraneous factors in judicial decisions|
|||^||Computer and Education: No A 4 U: The relationship between multitasking and academic performance|
|||^||The Guardian: Why the modern world is bad for your brain|
|||^||Mayo Oshin: Emotional Intelligence: The Difference Between Good and Great Leadership|
|||^||Travis Bradberry: Talent Smart|
|||^||Science Alert: Multitasking Drains Your Mental Energy Reserves, Neuroscientists Reveal|
|||^||The Guardian: Why the modern world is bad for your brain|