Many people think multitasking is the key to productivity. It does seem as though the ability to perform multiple tasks at once could be the best way to maximize your time and energy, resulting in higher efficiency while working. This concept of multitasking is widely misunderstood. It is much more difficult than most people think and, in most cases, is completely impossible to manage.
If you frequently rely on multitasking in your everyday life whether for work or personal tasks, you may be causing yourself unnecessary stress and strain. In addition to this, you could risk actively harming your cognitive processes in the long run. You may even be putting yourself in danger through activities such as driving. Understanding what multitasking is and what happens to your brain when you attempt it can be an important step in altering your mindset, allowing a healthier approach to your life and work.
You Are Probably Not Multitasking
What many people think as multitasking is not actually multitasking. Multitasking means you are performing multiple activities at the same time. Most people, when they think they are multitasking, are task-switching. This means changing from one task to the next after spending a brief period on each.
Whenever you change your focus by switching to the next task, some of your mental energy is spent on the change. This can lower your overall productivity, and your work often suffers as a result. If you rate your abilities to multitask highly, you may be surprised at how you could improve your efficiency by focusing on one task at a time instead.
Lack of Attention
Given that most people tend to task-switch rather than multitask, it is likely you may experience the direct effects of task-switching every time you attempt to multitask. These effects can be felt because your attention diminishes every time you switch between tasks. Every time you turn your attention to a new task, your brain takes some time to refocus.
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It can feel as though it is happening right away, but you only fully engage with what you are doing after a few moments have passed. The delay may vary, but eventually adds up over time and ultimately decreases the level of focus you can devote to any task you are trying to complete. Those who attempt to multitask frequently take 40 percent longer to complete a task than those who do not.
During a dangerous task such as driving, this lag in attention can have more serious consequences. While using your phone, for example, something may happen to demand your immediate response before you have refocused on your driving. In general, using a phone means you are less likely to notice your surroundings, which could prove dangerous even when walking.
Your Abilities Can Suffer
The extra effort it takes you to complete each task you attempt and the cognitive energy required to switch constantly between tasks can have a detrimental effect on your mental abilities. This can include the following:
- Concentration on a single activity can be difficult, especially the type of sole concentration needed for complex tasks, such as for balancing your family budget. Your ability to concentrate can be improved through practice, but you may never allow yourself the time to practice if you are always attempting to multitask.
- Memory can be lessened by multitasking, partly because you may never be paying enough attention to any one thing to remember the necessary details. Putting your brain through the constant effort required to switch between activities can result in general issues with forgetfulness. This has the risk of becoming permanent.
- Self-control can be required when it comes to paying attention to situations or people. You must be able to focus on something for an extended period, perhaps to learn something or to make a decision. Multitasking reduces your ability to control the direction of your focus and thoughts in these situations.
- Learning is directly affected by your ability to pay attention to the subject at hand. If your brain is used to moving on to the next item as quickly as possible, you may not have enough time to understand or remember anything.
- Creativity can be lessened through multitasking, as you are never giving your mind space to wander and come up with new ideas and you are not dedicating yourself to solving problems.
Multitasking is a Rare Skill
Some activities appear as multitasking but could be considered a single task. You may think of certain examples when trying to imagine someone multitasking, such as someone playing a drum kit or working in a busy kitchen. These are specific tasks that can take great practice to master effectively.
Multitasking when one or more of the tasks are automatic can be possible, but most activities people attempt while multitasking do not fall into this category. For example, meal planning for the week while cutting out coupons to save on food costs.
A small portion of the population is good at multitasking. The odds of you falling into this percentage of people are low, and there is a much greater chance you are performing poorly every time you attempt to multitask.
Negative Effects on Your Life
The way multitasking can affect you is widespread, as it can impact many different parts of your life. You may notice the effects in one or more of the following areas:
- The quality of your work may suffer, particularly compared with those who only focus on one task at a time. You are more likely to make mistakes and work more slowly than you are supposed to.
- Your personal relationships can be badly affected when you are unused to focusing fully on a single person or conversation at a time.
- Your health can be impacted, as trying to multitask during mealtimes can distract you and result in frequent overeating.
- Your stress levels can rise because of multitasking, which could affect you in a number of ways.
- Your enjoyment of life could be impacted simply because you are restricting your ability to pay attention to pleasant activities or experiences.
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