Impossible! You might think.
Multitasking is THE way, in this modern way of living. And if you don’t do it, you’re…
But, are you?
If I asked you about the last time you multitasked, you’d probably look at me with a big question mark on your face. Because, you’re doing it all the time. Without even realising it.
And I bet you’re doing it right now!
Obviously, you’re reading this article – brownie points for you (!). While probably checking your phone, keeping an eye on your email, scrolling through your social media, having multi-tabs open in your browser and listening to your music … Anything else?
That’s pretty much the norm, isn’t it?
Everybody does it.
Multitasking is perceived as efficient: you maximise your time and deliver more.
At least that’s how you feel when you multitask.
But is it true?
Hold that thought for a moment. And let me ask you this: when was the last time that the quality of the results you delivered, the quality of your performance, on all the tasks you were multitasking was top-notch for all of them?
If you’re scratching your head looking for an answer stop it right there. You won’t find it.
Here’s the thing: we, as human beings, can’t multitask.
We simply CANNOT.
Our brain is not designed for multitasking.
And when we juggle multiple tasks at once, studies have shown that our productivity drops of an average of at least 40%.
That’s right 40%.
And so does the quality of our performance.
Now, let me clarify one thing or two about multitasking. And let’s start with the basics: what’s exactly multitasking?
According to studies there are three types of multitasking:
- Trying to do two or more tasks simultaneously;
- Continuously alternating between tasks – literally going back and forth from one task to another; and
- Performing a number of tasks in rapid succession.
We can’t really perform #1 – Trying to do two or more tasks simultaneously – unless it’s something like walking and eating or walking and talking simultaneously. That’s because at least one of the tasks has to be of second nature, meaning that it’s performed in complete autopilot.
It’s really like having a program running in the background → walking, while we work on something else → talking or eating.
For example, we can’t read and talk simultaneously. And if you think you can, think again.
What you are really doing in that case is continuously going back and forth between reading and talking. In other words, #2 Continuously alternating between tasks – literally going back and forth from one task to another. And this is what we most commonly do when multitasking.
That’s what you do when, while on a conference call, you’re checking emails plus working on some documents you need ready for your next meeting (soon after the conference call you’re on right now!), plus maybe switching between multi-tabs in your internet browser (shhh, I won’t tell anybody).
You’re missing bits and pieces because you’re not entirely focussed on either of them.
Then there is #3 Performing a number of tasks in rapid succession. Although you might think that’s not even multitasking, it is. That’s because, as I explain it further down, when you do perform a number of tasks in rapid succession you don’t give your brain the opportunity and the time to unplug from your previous task and plug into the new one.
Your brain is still “tuned” into your previous task while trying to focus on the new one.
Now, this is where it gets even more interesting.
What happens to your brain when you multitask?
Every time you shift between your tasks, your brain has to shift its focus from one task to the other in a seamless stop-and-go mode.
Assuming that, like the majority of the population, you spend most of your day multitasking, you’ve set your brain in a stop-and-go mode all day long.
Imagine you’re driving your brand-new shining red Ferrari Testarossa 360 Spider on the Monte Carlo Grand Prix Circuit.
With no one else on the road.
No. One. Else.
In a stop-and-go mode.
All. The. Way.
Yes! All the way!
What does that do to your brand-new shining red Ferrari Testarossa 360 Spider?
I can feel your heart aching and breaking.
And I can see the pain in your eyes, and on your face.
Now. Listen very carefully: that’s exactly what you do to your brain when you multitask.
As simple as that.
And this applies also in relation to #3 because performing a number of tasks in rapid succession doesn’t give your brain the time to unplug and settle from the previous task, and freshly refocus on the new one.
And although you’re already working on your next task, your brain is still set on the previous one. That runs in the background. Distracting you from focusing 100% on the task in hand.
Studies have shown that our brain needs an average of 20 minutes, I’ve read it’s 23 minutes and 15 seconds, in between tasks to recover before being able to fully focus on its new task.
Now, all this multitasking has ramifications on your health, well-being, performance and productivity:
- Multitasking can seriously damage your brain. Studies by the University of Sussex have found that “people who frequently use several media devices at the same time have lower grey-matter density in one particular region of the brain compared to those who use just one device occasionally.” http://www.sussex.ac.uk/broadcast/read/26540
- Multitasking makes you less efficient and reduces your mental performance. Studies by the American Psychological Association https://www.apa.org/research/action/multitask show that multitasking is ineffective and inefficient. As mentioned earlier in this article, when multitasking your productivity drops of an average of at least 40%.
- In certain circumstances multitasking is dangerous and can be even fatal for you and others. For example, when you drive and talk on the phone, or drive and try to tune a radio station. Or, even worse, when you drive while doing a Facebook live, which, unfortunately, seems quite popular nowadays. It’s hazardous and reckless.
- Multitasking makes you lose your focus. Multitasking is the opposite of focus in fact.
- Studies have also shown that multitasking increases your levels of stress and anxiety.
- Multitasking impairs your judgment and your decision-making abilities.
- Multitasking drains you. You feel more tired, overwhelmed and foggy. And can lead you to burnout.
- Last but not least, multitasking kills your creativity.
Now, let’s look at some damage control measures
How can you reduce your daily multitasking, then, and keep it under control?
Here are a few ideas:
- Schedule your day in time-slots and assign only one task to each slot. Ensure that, in any given slot, you only perform the assigned task. For example, you can assign the “checking (and reply) emails task” to one or two time-slots – e.g. morning and late afternoon and you have to ensure that you check your emails only in those assigned time-slots. Be disciplined and really make a commitment to yourself.
- Make your daily tasks list and work through it task by task. Don’t get to even look at the next task until you’re finished with the current one.
- Take breaks during your day. Studies suggest taking breaks every hour and half.
- Avoid distractions when working, e.g.: close all your browsers, put your phone on silent mode and refrain from checking it all the time, don’t take calls when you’re working on a task that requires a steady focus like writing whether it’s emails, a report, your copy and so on.
Now, pick at least one of the above strategies, A to D, and implement it straightaway. Right now. With playfulness. Have fun with it. Make it like the new coolest game to play
And email me how you’re getting on with it at firstname.lastname@example.org, I’d love to hear from you.
Dr. Marina Bruni, JD
Global Brain Activation Strategist