Jack of all trades - how multitasking can actually slow you down

After juggling breakfast with getting the kids to school and arriving at work on time, you jump straight on to the phone with clients while simultaneously replying to the stack of emails that have accumulated since yesterday. You don’t stop for lunch – instead, you snack on a muffin while attending a staff meeting and taking notes.

Your afternoon is full of multitasking strategies that you feel is saving you time and effort and by the time you get home, take the kids to their afternoon sport, work through dinner and go over concepts in your head while you’re in the shower, you are pretty exhausted. As you sit up in bed with your iPad, planning for the next day, you congratulate yourself on being a super multitasking master, before passing out into a dreamless, exhausted sleep.

Multitasking – Good or bad

Yes, you ARE amazing for getting through your days like that. Your sheer determination has likely helped you succeed and – besides the exhaustion and stress – it seems to be working for you, right? Well, perhaps not. Studies show that not only is multitasking ineffectual, but it could actually damage your brain!

Benefits of Multitasking

Many people stand by the advantages of multitasking. This they say allows them to become more productive. In a nutshell, Multitasking allows you to accomplish several tasks simultaneously while using lesser time compared to doing each task individually.

  1. Increases efficiency - get more accomplished in lesser time. It also gives you more time to spend to spend on other tasks or personal life.
  2. Teaches you flexibility – when you can focus on several tasks simultaneously, you are able to adapt or switch your mental focus easier.
  3. It trains you how to ignore distractions – you’re basically juggling different tasks at the same time, so distractions are nothing new to you.
  4. Increases productivity – time is also a valuable resource. multitasking allows you to produce more given the same amount of time.

Disadvantages of Multitasking

Research has shown that the act of multitasking reduces performance, as our brains simply can’t focus on more than one thing at a time without losing quality in its ability to cope.

  1. Multitasking drops your IQ!

Yes, that’s right – multitasking is actually making you dumber! Researchers at the University of London’s Institute of Psychiatry found that the cognitive ability of multitaskers was actually impaired more than those of marijuana smokers or those who have not slept the night before. In fact, the average IQ drop of around 15 points put many multitaskers at the same IQ level as an eight-year-old child! Scary!

  1. Multitasking can give you brain damage!

It gets worse though. The drop in IQ mentioned above doesn’t just last throughout your multitasking session – it can be permanent! A study from the UK’s University of Sussex found through MRI scans that heavy multitaskers had less density in their anterior cingulate cortex – the region of the brain responsible for cognitive control, emotional control and the ability to empathize. While the researchers admit that this study shows only a link, rather than a cause, it’s still definitely food for thought.

2009 study conducted by Stanford University discovered that completing one task at a time is significantly more productive than multitasking. They also discovered that opening yourself up to multiple streams of information simultaneously have less ability to pay attention, remember important information or change over from one task to another than people who perform only one task at a time.

The researchers compared groups of people who thought that multitasking was helpful to their performance with people who preferred to do one task at a time. They found that heavy multitaskers were not only pretty bad at multitasking to begin with, but that they frequently performed much worse than their single-minded counterparts on a number of performance measures; they had difficulty organizing their thoughts and filtering out useless information and they were slower at switching from one task to another.

How to break the habit

If the thought of less productivity, permanently losing IQ points and damaging your brain isn’t enough of an incentive to stop you from multitasking, then maybe the ongoing stress and exhaustion will eventually wear you down. If you’d like to stop multitasking though, it can take time to break the habit. Try physically separating your ability to perform more than one task at a time. Take calls in an area separate to your computer.

Give yourself time for lunch – even if it’s only ten minutes. Reduce the number of tabs you have open on your browser and definitely shut down your social media tabs. Even these small steps will help you to become a one-track-mind kind of person, increase your productivity and prevent you from losing IQ points.

The CFS Team
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