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Last Updated on December 1, 2020

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.

More Tips on Multitasking

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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Last Updated on January 19, 2021

How to Eliminate Distractions for Achieving Your Goals

How to Eliminate Distractions for Achieving Your Goals

We all have our own set of goals we want to achieve. Goals we have been working on for months, years and maybe even more. Goals that we keep chipping away at but are not able to make the necessary dent in, to make an impact and complete them.

Despite all our late nights, early mornings and weekends of working in the perfect place, the precious timebox or updating our checklists – we simply cannot achieve the goals in front of us.

Are we not good enough?
Is our goal completely unrealistic?
Are we not sure what it is we are actually trying to do?

Perhaps. Maybe, it’s a combination of all of these put together and everything around us that keeps distracting us from our purpose, reducing our focus to the point where we can’t generate the internal focus and drive to accomplish what we want.

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All those Notifications

If you want to hit the low hanging fruit – start here. We are bombarded, BOMBARDED, with notifications 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Years ago, when my computer prompted me for updates, I would get notified of them and later walk away – letting it update in peace and quiet. Now, I get them weekly to my phone, update this OS, download this app – constantly staring me in the face asking me to click update, constantly reminding me. Add to that mix all the emails and social media notifications and the buzzing gets even louder. Sure “some” of it is is important but when you are trying to focus on the task at hand, you don’t need that email from work or friend request coming in. You need to eliminate that distraction to the point where it cannot be easily overridden.

When I’m working on one of my important goals, I turn off my phone and throw it across the room. The throwing (perhaps, gentle placement is more realistic) is an important act. The goal is for it not to be in arms reach and if I feel the urge to check, I find myself feeling that pang of guilt of actually, consciously, making the decision to walk across the room to pick up my phone.

On the web, I’ve played with a few applications and have found Strict Workflow to be the best tool to help here. Strict Workflow is a Chrome extension that blocks your access through your Chrome browser based on a timer. When the timer is active you can’t access those sites, when you are on break you can. The only way to override the change once it is active is to uninstall the extension.

Uninstalling the extension is akin to walking across the room to pick up my phone. If I were to uninstall the program while it was active I would feel that pang of guilt again asking me, questioning me whether going onto Facebook was worth not achieving my goal. And the internal follow-up question to that?  Do you really not have 30 minutes to spend on this goal?

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And I would figuratively hang my head in shame and mumble to myself – yes I do – and get back to it.

Guilt isn’t the greatest emotion in the world, but when it is used to get you back to what you need to be doing, it can be quite effective.

You are doing too much

Even after you’ve taken away all those distractions, you might start to find something still holding you back. It might be a subtle hold, perhaps more akin to a tug at your heart, it will come and go but will always be there… nagging you… pulling you down… holding you back… distracting you from your real purpose.

What is it?  One of your goals, maybe all of them?  Perhaps you have too much on the go?

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This is the hard choice that many people struggle with, as we want to accomplish so much in our lives.  But we need to make hard choices to move forward in life and this sometimes involves dropping the goals that are holding us back. These are the secondary goals on our plate that we simply aren’t going to achieve.  I recently had to make this decision. I had a couple of technical blogs that were languishing. I had not been writing in one of them for a year. Every few weeks I would remind myself of this fact to the point where it would become this 30 – 45 min conversation about how I could do it, what would I write about, where would I find the time, etc, etc, but then never do anything.

So I removed the distractions.

I deleted both blogs about 3 weeks ago. I could have kept them up and running for the next 6 months, but I chose to take them down immediately. Out of mind, out of sight. At first, I was sad, feeling as though I had failed. But a week later, those distractions were no longer consuming me, I didn’t think about them anymore and my time, energy, and focus were directed towards where it needed to be – on the goals I really wanted to focus on.

The Duality of Opportunities

Isn’t it a great feeling when someone you don’t know has seen your work and says – “Hey, saw your work, can we have lunch or would you be able to help on this project or can you do this presentation with us, etc, etc” – so many great feelings start to churn through you at that point in time. I love that feeling, it’s a feeling of validation and acceptance in all that you are doing and gives you such an incredible push. But like any sword, opportunities also have a double-edge to them. Sure it’s great to be acknowledged, but if that project is too big, not in line with where you want to be focusing your time or simply too big of an undertaking – walk away.

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Taking control of your distractions involves making tough decisions. You can’t do it all, no matter how hard you try, you can’t. So sometimes we have to be picky with what we choose to do and the opportunities we take. You don’t have to be rude about it, but you do have, to be honest with yourself about it.

Pick the opportunities which are most aligned to your goals, toss the rest.

There are some uncomfortable feelings here – frustration, guilt, forced loss – that you need to deal with when taking control of your distractions. The answers are not always easy and can involve some deep soul-searching on what you truly want to accomplish.

Deleting all the games and unnecessary apps from your phone, that’s easy, but turning down opportunities or generating that feeling of guilt when start to waiver are feelings we don’t generally lean towards. If you are serious about achieving your goals – not only achieving but surpassing them – then you need to take control of what is holding you back.

Because if you don’t, if you let them run rampant when you do realize it’ll be too late and you’ll know, in a heartbeat, that the feelings you have at that point in time (of not having met your goals) are infinitely worse than what you would have felt if had taken control of them from the beginning.

Featured photo credit: VIKTOR HANACEK via picjumbo.com

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