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Multitasking is the”new cool” right?
Allow me to fill you up on my current activity and probably try to prove you wrong…
As I type this post, I have about twenty (20) active tabs open on my browser (it gets to a hundred on some days).
I am working on 3 different post drafts for this blog.
I am rewatching the last season of F.R.I.E.N.D.S at the same time while trying to convince myself to take my pills
I pick up my phone, try to download a few podcasts so I can listen to them later, I decide to scroll through my social media feed while still trying to finish the blog post.
I answer an email, fill my Trello boards, jot down a few thoughts in an article outline, scroll through Instagram, and then returned to the post I’m currently working on…
I go from tab to tab, task to task and then turn my attention once again to the blog posts I promised myself I’d finish and schedule ahead.
This is pretty much standard for me — and I’m willing to bet the same holds true for you.
And I’m pretty sure you will agree that multitasking isn’t cool.
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When there are seemingly endless things to get done during any given day, multitasking is my new normal.
We all do it: Texting while walking, sending emails during meetings, chatting on the phone while cooking dinner. In today’s society, doing just one thing at a time seems downright luxurious, even wasteful.
But, in case you haven’t already heard, as irresistible as multitasking might seem, it’s really not the most efficient way for you to get any work done.
Here’s Why Multitasking is Bad For You.
Multitasking hinders your memory.
Our compulsion to multitask is actually sabotaging our memory.
It makes sense that if you try to do two things at once—read a book and watch television, for example—that you’re going to miss important details of one or both.
But even interrupting one task to suddenly focus on another can be enough to disrupt short term memory, according to a 2011 study.
Research from the University of California San Francisco found that multitasking negatively affects our short-term memory — which is also referred to as our “working” memory.
Your working memory is what enables you to remember an important deadline someone just told you or the fact that you need to call and schedule an appointment.
When the University of California San Francisco researchers asked participants to study one scene, but then abruptly switched to a different image, people ages 60 to 80 had a harder time than those in their 20s and 30s disengaging from the second picture and remembering details about the first.
As the brain ages, researchers say, it has a harder time getting back on track after even a brief detour.
Multitasking leads to poor work.
Another danger of not being able to commit all of your focus to something?
You’re increasing the likelihood of errors.
Dr. Paul Hammerness and Margaret Moore, authors of Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life, discovered that multitasking increases your chances of making a mistake or even missing important information or context entirely.
While your urge to rapidly switch between tasks might make you feel like a productivity superhero, it’s probably actually leading to lower-quality work than what you’re capable of producing.
Multitasking makes you less productive.
This seems counterintuitive. I know.
How can doing two things at the same time actually make you less productive?
Well, for starters, you aren’t actually doing two things simultaneously. Trying to focus on more than one task at a time puts pressure on the brain, which is designed to concentrate on one task at a time
Scientists say it’s almost impossible for humans to handle 2 tasks at the same time well.
What you’re doing instead is task-shifting. You jump from that email to that project, and so on and so forth.
Not so bad, right?
Thing is, from experience, I never really get anything done unless I stop and focus on completing just one task.
Multitasking doesn’t save time or make you get more done.
In fact, it will probably take you longer to finish two projects when you’re jumping back and forth than it would to finish each one separately.
“What tends to save the most time is to do things in batches,” says Winch.
“Pay your bills all at once, then send your emails all at once. Each task requires a specific mindset, and once you get in a groove you should stay there and finish.”
Multitasking Stiffles Your Creativity.
Multitasking requires a lot of what’s known as “working memory,” or temporary brain storage, in layman’s terms.
And when working memory’s all used up, it can take away from our ability to think creatively, according to research from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
“Too much focus can actually harm performance on creative problem-solving tasks,” the authors wrote in their 2010 study. With so much already going on in their heads, they suggest, multitaskers often find it harder to daydream and generate spontaneous “a ha moments.”
Multitasking makes you feel stressed.
How does constantly hopping back and forth between different emails and assignments make you feel?
Personally, I feel totally stressed — my eyes feel bleary, my heart rate quickens, and I end the day feeling like I got nothing of real value accomplished.
Compare that to spending a couple of dedicated, focused hours to making progress on a big project.
How do you feel at the end of that work session?
Probably a whole lot different.
According to David Meyer, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, that’s because multitasking has been proven to boost your stress levels.
When you’re trying to accomplish a bunch of tasks — particularly highly important ones — simultaneously, your brain responds to those seemingly impossible demands by pumping out a bunch of adrenaline and other stress hormones.
Your brain responds to seemingly impossible demands by pumping out adrenaline and other stress hormones.
The even worse news? A steady flow of those types of hormones can threaten your health.
That means multitasking isn’t just sending you into a mental tizzy, it can actually be throwing your body out of whack as well.
You’re Not Actually Multitasking
What you call multitasking is really task-switching, says Guy Winch, PhD, author of Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries.
“When it comes to attention and productivity, our brains have a finite amount,” he says.
“It’s like a pie chart, and whatever we’re working on is going to take up the majority of that pie. There’s not a lot left over for other things, with the exception of automatic behaviours like walking or chewing gum.”
Moving back and forth between several tasks actually wastes productivity, he says, because your attention is expended on the act of switching gears—plus, you never get fully “in the zone” for either activity.
This only scratches the surface on all of the potential pitfalls related to multitasking.
From stifling your creativity to negatively impacting your relationships, this compulsion to cram as many tasks as possible into one time slot doesn’t have a lot of benefits.
That being said, stopping this natural tendency can be tough — particularly when you have a to-do list as long as your arm.
The next time you feel the urge to multitask (which I can only assume will be within the next five minutes or so), challenge yourself to stay focused on the task in front of you.
You can also experiment with different time management techniques — such as task batching or the Pomodoro Technique — to see what makes you feel most productive.
Whatever you do, it’s sure to be a lot more beneficial than constantly switching gears.
How do you resist the urge to multitask?
Let me know in the comments!