Multitasking for failure?

Ben Nash

We’re all guilty of trying to squeeze more into every day, in the never ending quest to clear our to-do list and fit more and more experiences into our lives. Can we use multitasking to be more effective and multiply our results…?

Apparently not! A recent study looked at really common multitasking activities like sending a text while having a conversation, or writing an email while trying to concentrate on a presentation, and has warned that trying to concentrate on more than one thing at once has the temporary effect of reducing our IQ by 10 points!

The simple fact is that with more and more going on in our lives, it’s easy to try to get more done by spreading out our attention on multiple tasks at the same time. However, this study suggests you can achieve better results on each of your tasks by concentrating on each projects until it’s complete. This will allow you to focus and give the task at hand everything you’ve got, which should not only mean a faster and better outcome – but according to this study may even lead to a healthier brain.

Resist the temptation to try to get more things done at once, and you can not only be more effective in each of your tasks or projects and even get through your work quicker.

The study continues by showing research that the long term effect of continually pushing our brains through multitasking can actually change your brain structure and lower the density of your grey matter. This is the part of your brain that is involved in cognition and emotional control, and while slightly unclear, the concern is that this will impact how we interact with others as well as our ability to think.

When I read this article I was initially surprised, as the results didn’t seem to make sense. I wouldn’t call myself a serial multitasker but have often thought I’d be able to tick a couple of extra things off my list by working on a couple of tasks of once. But when I thought on it more, and observed my own behaviour since, I noticed that when I was spreading my attention between tasks, I would often not be as sharp concentrating on either. So I started doing some further research…

What I found was that it has been established that it’s actually impossible for you to concentrate on more than one specific thing at any one particular time. This means that for us to multitask, we are required to ‘switch’ our attention between the tasks we are working on. It’s this switching which costs us focus on any one task, and then we are just spreading our attention, and in the constant switching of our focus we are prone to missing things. The outcome is a result for each project that is either below the standard of what we would be able to do when we focus on only one task at a time, or alternately that we take even longer to finish both the tasks. Clearly this is completely against the purpose of multitasking!

Since reading this study I’ve committed to focusing only on one task at a time, only having one conversation at once (spoken and written), and using one device at a time, and when it comes to the phone making the decision to only answer a call if I’m able to focus completely. Since doing this I’ve found I’m getting through my tasks more quickly and to a higher standard!

It’s easy to fall into the trap of just jumping on a call or trying to shoot off an email while getting something else done. But resist temptation!

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