5 Reasons to Stop Multitasking

Multi-tasking

Like many others I always thought that multi-tasking was an efficient way to get things done.

Rather than just focusing on one task and letting the others slide, I deliberately ensured that I juggled all my tasks and did a bit of everything each day so that I could keep all my balls in the air.

But lately I have come to realise just how inefficient this actually is.

Because rather than staying on top of everything, I’ve all too frequently had all the balls come crashing down on me at once.

So, let’s have a look at why multi-tasking isn’t the answer – and most importantly at what you should be doing instead.

Multitasking and Me

So, why was I such a fan of multitasking in the first place?

It’s all to do with dreams.

I guess I’ve always had a low boredom threshold and have always had multiple activities on the go at any one time.

I have this recurring dream that I am cruising along happily crossing things off my to-do list and feeling pretty smug about my organisational skills, when I look back at my calendar and realise I have a Modern History research assignment due the next day that I haven’t even started!

Believe me, this is not a comforting dream to have at 2am.

And especially disconcerting when you consider that I haven’t actually studied Modern History since 1987!

So, to avoid that dream becoming a reality, I have developed a habit of multitasking – doing a little bit of everything each day so that I don’t forget any one thing altogether.

There’s just one problem.

Far from being more efficient, multitasking actually ensures that we actually don’t get ANY task completed effectively.

So, any time I was juggling multiple tasks, the final results were sub-standard, despite my best efforts.

But why is this the case?

Reason #1: It’s inefficient and time-wasting

Our brains are only designed to concentrate on one thing at a time (and no, that doesn’t just apply to males).

Women may be compelled to multi-task more often as they are more frequently responsible for little people who can’t perform tasks for themselves, but that does not make them efficient at it.

When we multi-task we don’t actually do two (or more) things at the one time. What actually happens is that we constantly shift our attention from one task and onto another. It’s just that we do it so rapidly we are often not aware of the process.

When we engage in an activity, we make a conscious decision to do so. Each activity has a set of ‘rules’ associated with it, that don’t necessarily apply to other activities. For example, the ‘rules’ required to cook dinner are very different from those required to text a friend. Trying to combine the two can make both tasks difficult.

When we swap from one activity to the other, our brains are forced to go through a process of goal shifting (deciding to focus on the different activity) and rule activation.

Each time we do this, we actually lose time. While it might only be a few seconds each time, if you spend your whole day shifting from one activity to another you can end up losing significant amounts of time.

Reason #2: Multi-tasking Causes Us to Make Mistakes

Those who frequently multi-task are seen to be more impulsive and therefore less cautious and methodical in their approach to tasks.

They are more easily distracted and often overlook key elements.

This can lead to careless errors (if not downright dangerous outcomes – ie texting and cooking).

Often work that is completed when multitasking will need to be done again, completely negating any time saving benefits.

Multitasking Infographic

 

Reason #3: My Brain Hurts

Multitasking definitely makes me feel exhausted – and it’s not just an age thing!

It’s actually quite mentally draining to have to focus intently on a number of different things at the one time.

Think about how hard it is to read 3 books at a time, or watch 3 television series at the same time – or even just to try to text while you’re carrying out a different conversation with someone face to face.

It’s really quite exhausting.

And an absolute invitation for something to go wrong (think texting your tutor ‘I love you’ when you meant to say that to your Mum!)

Plus, researchers at the University of Sussex have conducted brain MRIs that clearly show damage to the brains of those who frequently multi-task. The scans reveal less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region responsible for empathy as well as cognitive and emotional control.

Other studies show that frequent multitaskers experience a drop in their IQ of up to 15 points.

Any perceived benefits of multi-tasking get thrown out if it’s going to cause brain damage!

Reason #4: I’m Tired

When we force our brains to keep switching between multiple tasks, we overstimulate them.

The brain is not only coping with the information, but with the different types of media or stimuli; the different rules required to achieve the tasks; the different information that needs to be pulled to the forefront to have this new knowledge connected to it; and then storing it effectively.

All this takes a lot of energy and makes our brains go into overdrive.

It’s no wonder that by the end of the day we feel quite exhausted – the kind of tiredness that not even a good night’s rest can improve.

Allowing our brains to focus on only one activity at a time gives us greater clarity, better concentration and a sense that we have room to breathe.

This helps us to feel on top of things and far less overwhelmed, allowing our brains to shut down at night – a vital part of the learning and consolidating process.

Reason #5: It Stresses Me Out 

Research shows that people who multi-task have higher stress levels than those who don’t.

And frankly, I’m not surprised.

Working on multiple tasks sends our brains into overdrive. They respond by pumping out adrenaline and other stress hormones in order to keep up. These hormones provide us with a burst of energy, but it is often more distracting than helpful and it quickly dies off.

If we continue to practise multitasking, the constant stress can actually be dangerous to our health. These stress hormones can cause a number of medical issues such as headaches, stomach issues and sleeping problems. The increased sense of stress can cause issues in the workplace, home and relationships. It can also lead to chronic health issues such as insomnia, back pain, heart disease and depression.

What I Do Instead of Multi-Tasking

As you’ve probably guessed, now I avoid the temptation to multi-task. Instead, I make sure that I am only working on one task at a time.

This works better for me because:

  • I know that by focusing solely on one task at a time, I can complete it more efficiently and effectively, resulting in fewer errors and ultimately saving me time
  • I am protecting my brain by not overloading it and forcing it to work in ways for which it wasn’t designed.
  • I finish the day calmer, more relaxed and more satisfied. I can actually cross completed tasks off my to-do list rather than having done lots of bits of things, but nothing in its entirety.

However, I’m not just asking you to trust me on this. After completing our workshop on The Myth of Multi-tasking last week, my client Margaret wrote:

Student testimony

 

And, to address that Modern History nightmare, I make sure that I create a clear schedule that allocates blocks of time for every subject or activity I need to complete. That way I will never have the terrifying realisation that I have completely forgotten to do something important.

(For more ideas about why we all need to use planners, read my blog article Five Ways to Make a Calendar Work For You)

Do you have any more questions? Why not book an ATAR activation call so we can help you formulate a plan to improve your study habits. Or, we’re always happy to chat with you on our Social Media platforms, where you’ll find more helpful hints and tips.