Multitasking is the act of undertaking more than one task simultaneously or rapidly switching between tasks. It can take many forms, including:
- Starting multiple projects at the same time.
- Gambling on Vulkan Vegas while watching TV.
- Responding to emails while on a video call.
- Talking on the phone while working on an assignment.
- Cooking dinner while helping your kids with homework.
- Scrolling through social media in a meeting, etc.
Some argue that doing many things simultaneously is a valuable skill as it ostensibly enables them to accomplish several tasks at once. However, what really happens during multitasking is that you perform individual actions in rapid succession rather than actually performing them simultaneously. New research has found that multitaskers find it tedious to tune out distractions, making them susceptible to mental blocks that slow them down and hamper productivity. There’s also evidence that multitasking can reduce cognitive ability.
How Multitasking Hamstrings Productivity
The brain is wired to focus on one activity at a time. Constantly switching gears between tasks lowers efficiency and increases your likelihood to make mistakes. This effect may not be apparent when performing simple and mundane tasks like eating while watching TV. But when the activities become more complex and the stakes are much higher, attempting to multitask takes a heavy toll on productivity and can be dangerous. Here’s how:
Multitasking Increases Stress Levels
It involves demanding that your brain splits its attention between several tasks, and it simply cannot do that. Switching between one activity to the other amounts to constant interruption, causing information overload and an increase in mental fatigue. Attempting to juggle multiple tasks exerts immense pressure on the brain and causes stress. Stress is responsible for several health challenges, including headaches, stomach trouble, sleep disorders, back problems, depression, and heart disease.
It Slows You Down and Impairs Your Cognitive Ability
A recent study at the University of Sussex found that regular multitaskers have lower brain density in regions associated with cognitive control. When performing single tasks you’ve done many times, the brain relies on already established neural pathways and operates on “autopilot,” which saves time and frees up mental resources. Multitasking forces the brain to change its focus and hinders its ability to rely on automatic behaviors to finish simple tasks rapidly. It also puts a strain on your mental resources as it requires moving through the stages of executive control too quickly.
It Reduces Your Ability to Focus
The entire premise of multitasking involves shuffling between different tasks, turning off the brain’s processes associated with one task, and trying to refocus on another. It causes many distractions, which breaks your concentration and requires you to take some time to redirect your focus to another task. Consistently doing this decreases your ability to focus on a single activity even when you’re not working on several duties. Multitasking denies your brain the chance to rest between tasks and forces it to switch gears between different duties, which eventually wears it down and makes you easily distracted. The resulting inability to focus hamstrings productivity.
Multitasking Can Cause Memory Impairment
Multitasking reduces your brain’s ability to store and retrieve information, explaining why memory loss and absentmindedness are common among regular multitaskers. This is because the process of forming new memories requires the brain to focus and consolidate information, and multitasking disrupts this process. Also, you do not give your brain enough time to encode the necessary information needed to build memory when switching from one task to the other. Since you’re not paying adequate attention to any of the activities, you may be unable to recollect them properly at a later time. Additionally, stuffing your brain with too much information within a short period can be so overwhelming that it’ll lose the ability to differentiate between what’s important and what isn’t.
It Decreases the Quality of Your Work and Kills Creativity
The National Bureau of Economic Research reported that multitasking can reduce overall performance and make projects last longer. It often leads to frustration, especially when you can’t finish any of the tasks you’ve been juggling, causing a decrease in the quality of your work and personal skills. It also kills creativity as creative pursuits typically demand undivided attention. Switching between tasks requires you to refocus multiple times, which can obstruct your creative flow. Needless to say that the absence of creativity does not bode well for productivity.
While multitasking may seem like an effective way to increase productivity, trying to juggle multiple tasks at once can lead to increased stress, decreased concentration, and a higher likelihood of making mistakes. This is because the human brain is not designed to focus on multiple complex tasks simultaneously, and attempting to do so can lead to cognitive overload. Focusing on one task at a time is the best approach to completing it efficiently and effectively, resulting in higher overall productivity.