As a millennial, I grew up with the impression that multitasking was essential to staying competitive at work and in society. In fact, it’s not unusual for employers to list “ability to multitask” as a prerequisite skill in their job descriptions.
It’s become a symbol of honor in the modern-day business world.
For years, I’d tackle anything and everything that came my way, in an effort to spin multiple plates at a time without letting a single one fall.
I was on a endless state of high alert as I juggled completing tasks, answering my coworkers’ questions, staying up to date with current events, and so on.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably experienced all this as well.
You’re in a noisy office, trying to concentrate.
Your computer monitor has ten different browser tabs open, along with two email accounts, three spreadsheets, two documents, 5 skype chats, your Kindle app, and Spotify.
Meanwhile, your coworkers chime in every moment with questions.
Your manager is pinging you with requests.
And in the background …
Your phone is blinking and buzzing with 2 missed calls, 3 new text messages, and 4 instagram post notifications.
And you can’t help but eavesdrop on neighboring coworkers’ conversations about their plans for the weekend.
Or maybe you’re working from home and you’re trying to concentrate, all whileyou’ve got the news playing in the background, And your dog barges into your office wanting to play.
Then your spouse drops by your office for a quick chat.
You seem to be working on all these things, and just as you get into one of them, something else pops up and you move onto that instead.
Later, at dinner, when your spouse asks you about how your day went, you tell her the usual” “Today was a long one. I was so busy!”
But in reality, and in hindsight, you have nothing to show for. You were at the office for hours, but it still doesn’t feel as though you got anything done.
IF it does, the good news is that you’re not alone.
The bad news: you’re harming yourself, big time.
Thanks to the rise of technology, our brains are constantly be bombarded with streams of information, and quite literally being pulled in 1,000 different directions.
How the hell are we supposed to get any quality work done when everything is begging for our attention?
But even when we’re not working, we somehow feel compelled to be more productive—
we chat on the phone while we do your laundry, watch Hulu while we cook, or text while we drive.
I’ll never forget the time when I was driving in the middle of the night, windows down, music pumping. The roads were clear, the weather was fantastic, the sky was luminous with stars.
You couldn’t have asked for a better night.
But I was hungry, exhausted and eager to get home from my soccer game.
The speed limit was 35 mph. I had a long way to go until I got home.
So I decided to yank out my phone and catch up on my notifications to kill some time.
As I was toggling between driving and texting, I slammed into this guy riding his bicycle in the bike laneat the side of the road.
Trembling in fear and anxiety, and the inside of a prison cell flashing before my eyes, crazy thoughts began to roam uncontrollably in my mind.
Would I end up spending the rest of my life for killing an innocent human being?
Should I just drive off, since there weren’t any witnesses?
After a moment of hesitation, I quickly pulled over to check up on him, praying to God that he was fine.
Thank God, the chap was only slightly shook up.
No injuries, his bike unscathed. , Shockingly, he told me not to worry about it.
In fact, he was so eager to get back on his bike and hit the road that I was thrown for a loop.
I started questioning my own pain tolerance, resilience, and ability to bounce back.
At that moment, I came to the realization that I was a giant wimp.
Anyhow, i was crazy lucky to not have injured or killed him – or been reported to the police.
From that night on, I knew I had to change.
And after my research, I found plenty of convincing evidence that making a change was the right thing to do.
Without further ado, here are six reasons why you should stop multitasking
Multitasking is a myth
Multitasking is one of the most dangerous myths associated with productivity.
The word “multitask” first appeared in 1965 in the framework of computing, to describe the abilities of a computer to process two or more jobs simultaneously.
With the rapid ascent of our economy in the last 50 years, this concept has been applied to people.
Our society embraced multitasking as a way to keep pace with the new speed of business.
Employers embraced the term and sprinkled it into their job descriptions in hopes of finding talent who were efficient, high-performing multitaskers.
As a result, on our resumes, we highlighted our ability to juggle tasks and prided ourselves on our ability to complete multiple projects at once.
But the science now shows that our brains don’t actually multitask. What it does do, however, is multiswitch rapidly.
What the brain is very good at doing is quickly diverting its attention from one thing to the next.
In other words, we are not computers.
We are, fundamentally, single-core processors.
We can’t effectively reply to an email, listen to a colleague talk, and do math calculations in our head simultaneously.
Well, we can do all three things at once, but it’s impossible to concentrate on all three of those things at once.
And because of this illusion, it’s easy to give ourselves the impression that we’re being productive.
In reality, we’re just being busy and screwing ourselves over.
We never truly commit to any of our tasks.
We never get into the “zone”.
And when a shiny new object comes along, we jump on it.
Multitasking truly impairs our work. It kills our focus and wears us out, both mentally and physically.
In one recent experiment, researchers asked a student to dress up in a clown suit and ride a unicycle on campus. After people passed the clown, they were asked if they had seen him. Around 75% of students talking on their cell phones failed to see the clown who was right in front of them.
Researchers call this behavior “inattentional blindness”. That is, while their eyes were technically looking at their surroundings, their brain was not registering anything because it was already too preoccupied to do so. (R)
Studies have also shown that people who are distracted while eating can prevent their brain from realizing they’ve eaten enough.
Because the brain doesn’t register that they’ve eaten enough, it prompts them to eat more.
Multitasking decreases productivity
If you’re like I was, you probably think multitasking helps you save time
It gives us all the impression that we can get more done, faster.
But, contrary to popular belief, that’s not how it works.
In fact, it actually takes you longer to do two things ar once than separately.
Researchers estimate that switching between tasks causes a 40% productivity loss.
One study found that drivers who were chit-chatting on their phone took longer to reach their destination than those who didn’t use their phone while driving. (6)
When we switch between tasks, the transition often feels smooth. But in reality, it demands a string of small shifts.
Each small switch leads to a cognitive cost.
It causes our prefrontal cortex to burn up oxygenated glucose, the same fuel you need to focus.
And the kind of rapid task-switching we do with multitasking causes the brain to burn through fuel so quickly that we feel exhausted, after even a short time.
Simply put, multitasking exhausts the nutrients in your brain and leads to burnout.
It creates an illusion of productivity, rather than productivity itself.
One study revealed that it takes roughly 23 minutes to regain complete focus on a task after an interruption. 
And that’s just one interruption!
Imagine the amount of time that you waste every day because of interruptions.
But multitasking doesn’t just slow you down. It also increases the number of mistakes you make. (7)
One study found that people who worked at three tasks simultaneously made three times as many mistakes as those working at only two tasks.
When our attention is pulled in multiple directions, it becomes easy to slip up and miss key details.
Multitasking Leads to Stress and Stupid Decisions
I can’t believe I multitasked for so damn long.
Doing 10 different things every time I sat down to work overwhelmed me.
Yet, I found myself continually doing it.
I’m normally on edge when I’m working.
I tense up about whatever I’m working on, so if I was working on 10 things at a time, that meant I was 10 times as stressed and anxious.
In fact, research has now shown that chronic multitaskers not only have increased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone; they also have a decreased volume of gray matter in the brain, which can result in depression, anxiety, and poor self-control. (23)
Now let’s talk about one of the biggest stress-makers: our email inbox.
You produce excess cortisol when you’re constantly connected to email.
In one study, scientists measured the heart rates of employees who had constant access to their office emails and compared them with those of employees who did not have access to their emails, The researchers discovered that employees who had access to emails when they weren’t at work had elevated heart rates because they were in a constant state of “high alert”.
They knew someone from work could contact them at any minute, so they were left in this perpetual cycle of stress and anxiety. As a result, they could never truly enjoy their present moments with their families. (4)
Multitasking doesn’t just increase stress. It also leads to poor decision-making.
By continuously toggling between tasks, valuable ‘willpower muscle’ is depleted, sort of like a skeletal muscle that gets tired when you use it too much.
This leads to decision fatigue, impulsive behavior, and a reduction in our ability to delay gratification, which is necessary to achieve our goals.
Not only are we making lots of small unimportant decisions by continually shifting between tasks, but we’re deteriorating the quality of each successive decision. This can put us in a situation where we truly make rash decisions on important matters.
Multitasking Impacts Brain Function
Scientists have long believed that multitasking causes slight cognitive impairment, but they thought the impairment was just temporary.
However, in a recent brain study done in the UK, researchers found that, when compared to people who use only one device at a time, people who use several media devices at once were changing the structure of their brains. (R)
Researchers found that the multitaskers had less brain density in the cingulate cortex of their brain, a key brain region responsible for emotional intelligence and executive function.
This might not seem like a big problem to some. But it really is.
Emotional intelligence is a critical skill for high performers. It leads to less procrastination, increased confidence, improved resilience. And it allows us to create better networks of support.
Just as multitasking can cause a change in the physical structure of the brain, it can also cause a change to the chemical components of the brain.
When we complete a mini-task (e.g., sending an email, replying to a text message, or returning a call), we are hit with a burst of dopamine, our “reward hormone”.
Just like the effects of alcohol and drugs, we can get addicted to the dopamine rush from losing focus and finding new sources of stimulation.
This creates a dopamine-infused feedback loop, which is why we’re driven to keep interchanging between tiny tasks that give us instant pleasure.
Multitasking Might Harm Your Creativity
Multitasking also takes a toll on your creativity.
Innovative ideas are rooted in extensive concentration.
But constant task-switching prevents you from focusing long enough to stumble upon something original and exceptional.
A 2015 study found that people who multitask were less creative and experienced less enjoyment than those who single-tasked.
Those who focus on one task at hand – where they feel totally absorbed by their task – often enter what psychologists refer to as the “flow” state.
This flow state is also known as “being in the zone”. It’s a mental state in which you perform a challenging activity with energized focus, full immersion, and satisfaction in the process.
Those are the times when we have breakthroughs.
But we can also experience these “aha” moments while doing mundane tasks.
Oftentimes, we multitask by listening to audiobooks while doing laundry or talking on the phone while driving.
We feel productive because we’re killing two birds with one stone. But that comes at the expense of creativity.
When we’re driving or doing laundry or showering, we’re not really doing just that one thing.
We’re tapping into the power of our imagination and creative self by letting our minds wander a bit.
Multitasking Can Lower Your IQ
Perhaps worst of all, multitasking can make you dumber.
One study found that participants who multitasked experienced a decline in their IQ levels.
In fact, the decline was so severe, it was comparable to what you would experience after smoking weed or pulling an all-nighter.
IQ levels literally dropped to the level of an average 8-year-old. (13)
Research has also shown that multitasking hinders our ability to learn and interpret information effectively.
In one study designed to assess the impact of multitasking on performance, researchers found that, on average, students who were texting or using social media while doing schoolwork had a GPA lower than those who didn’t.
How to Stop Multitasking
Protect Your Brain and Productivity
Our brains aren’t wired to multitask and be bombarded with all the information we face in the digital age.
Multitasking feels good, but it isn’t worth your time, energy – and certainly not your brain.
When you’re trying to accomplish everything at once, your brain is predisposed to distraction. Your attention is so stretched, everything will seem interesting.
it clearly slows you down and decreases the quality of your work. It’s certainly not a skill to add to your resume.
My recommendation is that you focus on only one thing at a time and work in a distraction-free environment.
Turn off all notifications – and better yet, keep phones and media devices out of sight. Shut off the internet if you have to.
It’s almost impossible to ignore this kind of stimulus, so it’s better to get rid of it completely.
For example, if you have a paper to write, schedule 3 hours for yourself to get it done.
Do nothing else during that time.
No other tasks, no meetings, no calls, no emails, no social media, no TV, no phone, no stimulus of any kind. Just focus on that paper. That’s it.
You have nothing to lose by not multitasking.
No one became annoyed with me for not responding to a text, an email, or returning a call.
In fact, over time, people respected my time and only reached out when they had something of value to offer.
The anxiety I used to have from the fear of missing out (a.k.a. FOMO) quickly faded away.
Any interruptions — a text, a tap on the shoulder — I put off until I finished what I was working on.
Never forget that your inbox is nothing but an arrangement for other people’s agendas.
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