Multitaskers,
your brain is in pain.

Arghhhh, I’ve got so much to do! It’s stressing me out! How can I save time? Can I do a few things at once? Yeah, that sounds doable, everyone is doing it too, so why can’t I? I just need to train myself up. Let’s start with listening to my podcast and planning my day.

You may think that killing two birds with one stone makes you productive, but I hate to break it to you, a man (or woman) who chases two rabbits catches none. In one of my previous posts, one of my time-saving techniques was to stop multitasking. When you ‘multitask’, your brain isn’t doing two things simultaneously. It’s actually switching between tasks rapidly and spends more focus on the switch rather than the tasks. This is a bad practice for your performance and your mental health, and here are some reason why:

 

Sub-par Performance

Your brain takes about 5 to 10 minutes to get back into the swing of things. Some experts say this switch causes a 40% loss in productivity.[1] When you switch between tasks, and this includes stopping to pay attention to your phone and email notifications, your brain has to 1) summarize the interrupted task, 2) decide if it should be actioned upon in quickly or in the future, 3) store that thought and decision for future use, 4) link the interrupted task to a network of thoughts and memories, 5) regain the mindset of the original tasks, 6) remember where it stopped, 7) check to see if the short-term memory is congruent to what is in front of them, 8) decide whether to continue on with the task and 8) continue doing it. That’s a whole lot of energy spent on just 1 interruption! And how many times do you get interrupted while doing a single task?

 

Mental Health Damage

To look at the health implications of multitasking, researchers at the University of Sussex conducted a survey on people who use multiple devices simultaneously and people who focus on single tasks. They used MRI scans to monitor their brain activity and from the experiment, found that high multitaskers had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex.[2] This impacts the person’s ability for cognitive, emotional and empathetic control.

Perhaps this sacrifice for cognitive control pays off in other areas? Perhaps not.

A series of tests set by Stanford University investigated the potential benefits of multitasking, only to find single-taskers continue to out-performed multitaskers.[3] High multitaskers couldn’t distinguish relevancy in tasks, were easily distracted, had worse short-term memory and were even worse at switching between tasks than their low multitaskers counterparts.

While the extent of damage multitasking has on the brain has yet to be measured properly, it is clear that multitasking has more negative effects than positive ones.

 

Practice makes perfect

That’s right. When you practice multitasking, you get “better” at it. But don’t get me wrong. I’ve told you about the negative impacts of multitasking (or have you lost focus and forgotten about it?) If you continue to multitask, your brain is in danger. You are conditioning your mind to achieve at lower levels of performance and exposing your brain to more damages.

However, there are certain tasks that can be multi-tasked paired effectively, such as eating and reading or walking and listening to your podcast. According to Koechlin, the ease of doing tasks simultaneously depends on how much energy on the prefrontal cortex is needed to complete the tasks.[4] Activities like walking and eating have become innate for many of us, which frees up our brain power to focus on other tasks.

So stop multitasking and make your brain happy.

References:
1 http://www.apa.org/research/action/multitask.aspx
2 http://news.stanford.edu/2009/08/24/multitask-research-study-082409/
3 http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-09/uos-bsr092314.php
4 http://science.sciencemag.org/content/328/5976/360

0 Comments

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 11 Tools for Time Management | Linus Tan - […] writing a few articles about time management, followed by a few thoughts about multitasking, how to focus and the…

Date:

18 SEP 2016

Category:

Archive:

[catlist categorypage=”yes”]