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Published on September 25, 2018

Is it Possible to Multitask? 12 Reasons Why You May Not Want To

Is it Possible to Multitask? 12 Reasons Why You May Not Want To

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, whilst trying to keep up with demands from work, family and friends .

Our response to this overwhelm has been to do more than one thing at a time. We respond to text messages, whilst completing important projects, send emails, whilst watching TV shows and scroll through social media feeds, whilst chatting with friends and family.

But 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. Multitasking 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.[1]

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. Multitasking could endanger your life.

There are certain situations where multitasking may endanger your life.

For example, chatting on the phone whilst driving, or texting whilst crossing a busy road, could significantly compromise your ability to maintain safety.[2]

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Multitasking isn’t worth your energy, time and especially, not your life.

3. Multitasking 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.[3] 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. Multitasking could make you dumber.

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.[4]

Imagine the effects of writing an important paper or email to a client whilst 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. Multitasking 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. And the cycle repeats itself, creating a constant state of stress and anxiety.

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6. Multitasking worsens decision-making skills.

Multitasking also hurts yours 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 whilst 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.[5]

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. Multitasking hurts learning ability.

A study published in the journal Computers and Education found that on average, participants who used Facebook, whilst texting and doing schoolwork, had a lower GPA and grades, than those who didn’t.[6] According to the researchers, Reynol Junco and Shelia R. Cotton:

“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 a task at hand. As a result of low levels of attention, learning effectively is much harder than otherwise.

8. Multitasking kills your ability to 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.

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And so, when you’re working, you’ll feel a restlessness to check your email, social media and 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.

9. Multitasking kills creativity.

Imagine this scenario:

You’re writing an important paper and then, 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 didn’t stay focused.

10. Multitasking may reduce your 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.[7]

According to Travis Bradberry, 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.[8]

Multitasking reduces the speed and quality of work, 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. Multitasking causes overwhelm and burnout.

Ever wonder why you feel constantly tired even after a good night of sleep or a long vacation?

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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. Multitasking could harm health more than marijuana

New York Times bestselling author and Neuroscientist, Daniel Levitin, suggests that multitasking could damage our brains, even more so than smoking marijuana![9]

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 whilst completing an important task, then why multitask?

Final thoughts

As you’ve read thus far, multitasking is a bad habit that has long-term harmful effects on your health, well-being and productivity. But there’s hope if you take charge of your life today.

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.

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Mayo Oshin

Entrepreneur and write on building habits that stick and improving productivity

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Published on April 16, 2019

How Self Care Can Help You Live Your Best Life

How Self Care Can Help You Live Your Best Life

When was the last time you did something for yourself?

Whether it was deciding to treat yourself with a little something or travel for some R&R, how often do you practice self-care?

Well, as good as above sounds, there’s a common misconception that many of us have about self-care: that it’s only about indulgence and enjoyment.

However, self-care goes far beyond indulgence. It’s actually about respecting your mind and body, understanding its limits, and being able to take care of every part of yourself, in a holistic way.

And, you really don’t have to go to extreme measures or do anything specific–like meditating or following a plant based diet–in order to practice self-care. You just have to make sure that what you’re doing is in your best interests.

So how can you make that happen?

Below are a few proven methods that will help you become a better version of you. Follow through with these regularly and you’ll be well on your way to living your very best life.

Listen to Yourself

The bulk of self-care is knowing yourself.

This means knowing your body’s limitations, and being in tune with your feelings, emotions and thoughts. So it’s important, then, to know who you are and what you want to do in life, in order to truly say that you know yourself. 

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What is your purpose?

Have you ever thought about this question?

Your purpose doesn’t have to remain the same throughout your life. What you found a purpose in at age 19 would likely be different at age 49.

In your current situation, think about the different roles that you have – as a working professional, a spouse, a partner, a parent, etc.

Do you feel like you are fulfilling your purpose through any of these roles?

All you have to do is ensure that what you’re chasing is meaningful to you; this will bring focus and motivation as you strive to achieve your goals.

If you have your purpose defined, then that’s awesome! You know what drives you and why.

But, if you don’t feel like you have a purpose nailed down, it’s good to start by asking why.

For example, why are you working in your particular job or industry? If the reason is vague or unclear, then your motivational energy will be the same. In which case, you may find yourself not having a direction for where you’re headed in life.

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If you’d like to learn more about finding your purpose, then I recommend you check out this article:

How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

Seek Out Continuous Education

Now, this may seem less common when you think of self-care, but lifelong learning is incredibly useful and an important component of taking care of yourself.

It’s Super Practical

Lifelong learning is extremely practical these days and does not require as much effort as it may have in the past. Long gone are the days when you could only find information on something by visiting a library. In this day of the internet, anything you can imagine is at your fingertips.

You don’t need to physically go to a learning institution to learn. You can watch Youtube videos to learn new skills, take online courses to earn a degree, and scroll through an endless amount of articles, books and journals from reputable news and informative sites.

When you’re constantly pushing yourself to learn and take up new things, your mental health also improves. Research shows that an active and engaged mind is responsible for diminishing age-related memory loss and improves overall cognitive abilities.

Your Confidence Will Skyrocket

You’ll also have improved self worth as it teaches you to step outside of your comfort zone, which will undoubtedly improve your confidence.

You’ll also connect better with others by expanding your knowledge base. Learning exposes you to a multitude of new ideas and perspectives that you may have otherwise never considered. This also increases your adaptability. Whether it’s at work or just wanting to adapt to society, your peers, and loved ones, life long learning prepares you to take on new challenges.

You’ll Be More Desired in the Job Market

Another obvious reason for continuous education, is that your employability will also increase.

With the ever changing economy, and huge influences from technology, social media, science etc., job descriptions today are moving targets. Assignments and roles change so quickly in response to changing business demands, it becomes a Herculean task to keep a job description database current.

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In years past, stability was a characteristic of the world of work. Procedures, information, jobs, and organizations were established and provided continuity. Education was completed in the first 14 to 22 years of one’s life, followed by a long career occasionally punctuated by short-term job training.

Today, however, jobs, companies, and technology are disappearing and being created simultaneously. To remain current and maintain a competitive advantage in the human capital marketplace, an individual is challenged to continually learn.

People return to school at every age to enrich their skills and knowledge for their current positions. Some even prepare themselves for new jobs or career changes, moving them forward into new opportunities and technology.

We can be assured that we will be challenged to continue to learn new tasks and information throughout our lives. Successful careers belong to flexible, curious learners who are prepared for opportunities because they know themselves and where they make their best contribution. As Peter Drucker, the father of modern management stated,

“Knowledge is choice.”

Lifelong learning also increases social awareness and perspective. To genuinely understand and empathize with others, increase social awareness, and foster strong interpersonal relationships, it’s important to seek out new perspectives. Enhancing the skills that positively impact emotional intelligence can bring even greater happiness and success, both personally and at work; and, this is all part of self-care.

Improve Your Habits (Both at Work and at Home)

Now, the last piece of advice I want to introduce to your self-care regimen, is to improve your habits.

Habits define who you are, and are built up over time. You are what you eat is a great example of this. If you make it a habit to eat foods that nourish your body, rather than make your body feel bad, then you will be much healthier overall.

Good Habits Allow You to Reach Your Goals

Since habits dictate your days and nights, such as waking up every morning to get to work before a certain time, or brushing your teeth before bedtime every night, they play a major role in whether we do or do not reach our goals.

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When you form habits that allow you to progress towards your goals, you’re automatically living a purposeful day, everyday.

Habits Make Your Time a Priority

How do you spend your free time? Do you opt to lounge on the couch watching Netflix passively, or do you engage in activities that support your purpose in life?

It’s natural to waste a lot of time during the day, but fostering good habits will make you set a pattern for how you spend your time and give you the choice of what you choose to spend your time on. By improving your habits, you’ll find that you can be a LOT more productive. When you create good habits, you become more efficient with your time and a lot less is wasted.

This in essence creates an overall positive influence on your life, allowing you to treat your mind and body well, which is why improving your habits are so important to self-care.

Your Well Being Comes First

We live in such a fast-paced society, where we are often so caught up in our work, families, maintaining our social lives, our studies and everything in between. It’s an understatement to say that life can get a little overwhelming at times.

If you’ve ever watched the safety video onboard a plane, you’ll know that they always ask for a parent or adult to put on the safety mask first, before tending to the child. This may sound selfish, but the fact is that if you truly want to ensure the child’s safety, then your safety needs to come first so that you can protect and care for the child without complications from your end.

The same goes for self-care. We need to ensure that our well being is priority, so that we can be the best for the people around us.

Listening to yourself, practicing lifelong learning and improving your habits are steps that you can take to ensure you’re constantly in the best state of mind, alongside the indulgence and rest that you reward yourself with.

Featured photo credit: Photo by Raychan on Unsplash via unsplash.com

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