The idea of multitasking is a provocative one. You can do a number of things concurrently, therefore saving you precious time. Why wouldn’t you do that?! Well research over the years has shown that this idea is far from the truth. Multitasking actually hurts us (unless you are one of the outliers who it actually helps).
A study done in 2007 with Microsoft workers showed just how much another task actually impacted our ability to be productive. In the study, participants showed that responding to an instant message or an email during a task could lead to a 10 minute tangent. Moreover, it resulted in an additional 10–15 minutes to truly get back on task. And that’s just email and instant messaging. It’s easy to see how hours could be lost throughout the day by our attempts to do multiple tasks at once.
Many people seem to believe that multitasking is actually a good workout for your brain. In truth, your brain is simply not designed to do many things at the same time. Instead it jumps back and forth between the tasks, moving it’s focus between what you’re doing and in the end, they all suffer. In fact, research has shown that when you’re multitasking your IQ can drop as many as 10 points due to the lack of focus. The funny thing is, despite all of the research and logic that multitasking isn’t a good approach, we still do it. The question is why.
We know it’s not efficient, that we shouldn’t do it, and still we resort to this mode of working. I’m certainly guilty of the practice myself, especially back in school. I remember being in front of my computer, browsing the web, chatting on my gTalk, and listening to music/watching TV, all while doing my course work. It seems to be more common in younger individuals, but I’m just as guilty of it too. And when you add smartphones to the equation, it gets even more difficult. Why do we do this though? There seem to be a few reasons.
Multitasking seems to just another bad habit we form and is difficult to break. Despite the beeps or notifications, how often do you find yourself in the middle of a task and the next minute you’re checking your Facebook or Gmail. For no good reason, it just happens. Changing behavior is always difficult, but being aware of the problem is a good start.
All the bells and whistles from the notifications we get daily, actually gives us pleasure. Receiving new information stimulates our senses and releases dopamine in our brain. In a way, we almost become addicted to the constant barrage of information we’re receiving. Naturally, multitasking enables this entire process.
Finally, some people just don’t buy it. The research and logic and common sense are baloney. They still believe it’s a viable and even preferred way to operate. I hope I can convince you otherwise, but ignorance is bliss I suppose.
The solution of course is to do the opposite. To put your focus and time into one thing at a time. To monotask. Here are a few ways that we can fight our urge to do the opposite.
If you make the effort to plan out your time and follow it, you can avoid many of the pressures of multitasking. Typically we have an idea of what we need to do, but nothing concrete. That uncertainty leads to the wandering mind that is multitasking behavior. Make a plan or to do list and stick to it.
Go Off Grid
Technology is the number one culprit for many of our multitasking behaviors. From checking email to social media, the ease of access and habits related to technology are often instigators. To prevent this, remove technology from the equation completely. Work offline, silence your smartphone, or disconnect the internet.
Create A Sanctuary
Our environment enables our multitasking as much as everything else. Being in an office or in your typical day to day environment is full of distractions. From chores to media, everything is vying for your attention. Instead, find a place that is void of these temptations and that can allow you to focus on one task at a time.
Just cutting yourself off from technology, especially from the internet, may not always be a feasible option. There is a less extreme approach though. You can use various tools that will keep you honest when you’re online. Extensions like StayFocusd can help you block the primary culprits of multitasking and keep you away from your favorite blog, sports news, or social media.
The simplest step you can take is to just be aware of how and where you are spending your time. Keeping a journal or log to see how your day is progressing, and what you’re actually working on, can be a great way to identify patterns and areas where you’re getting distracted.
Multitasking arises out of distraction itself.
— Marilyn vos Savant
These are just some of the ways to fight off multitasking, but ultimately it comes down to being present and changing behavior. Easier said than done. If anything, I hope I at least made it clear that multitasking is not a good approach. The rest is up to you.
Image via flickr.
Originally published at alyjuma.com on November 24, 2015.