Why Is Multitasking Bad for You?


We are used to admiring people who manage everything at once. However, multitasking hurts rather than helps us. How does the desire to simultaneously work on all the projects interfere with our life and how can we cope with all the things when time is not enough?

How many tabs in your browser are opened? Right now? I think more than ten. Perhaps twenty. Some are needed for research; some help to stay in touch with the colleagues and clients; something is open for entertainment since no one can see you. It does not matter what you need these tabs for — they still don’t help. We cannot just sit down and do something.

Switching between a thousand tasks, we feel that we do not have a single second to rest. And then we think that today was another bad day: we were so busy and did not have time to do everything. However, the evening is no better. We are eating while watching TV; we are reading a book while listening to the radio. Who prevents us from just sitting down and focusing on one thing?

We are constantly distracted from the main goal, which in itself is bad. But now there is even proof that multitasking is bad for our brain. It sounds scary. It looks like it is time to try working in a different mode.

Why do we do everything at the same time?

What answer is obvious? Because it is impossible to cope with everything otherwise.

Technology has been invented to make life simpler and faster. Smartphones, like a Swiss army knife, can do everything and in all spheres: from drafting plans for the weekend to tuning your guitar. When there is another app invented for each step, it’s hard not to use them every second. Are you going to the supermarket? Why not make a shopping list, listening to a popular podcast? Are you going to lunch with friends? Write a post in Facebook and invite someone else to join you!

What does science say?

Science knows why we love to perform multiple tasks simultaneously.

Why is it good?

Our own brain deceives us because it likes when we are supposed to be terribly busy. Studies show that multitasking leads to the production of dopamine, the hormone that causes a feeling of pleasure (or satisfaction). We should get a reward for all the hard work!

We are easily distracted by everything new and bright. And this affects the part of the brain responsible for concentration most of all.

The centers responsible for getting pleasure are activated when we switch between tasks. Take a look at a new email in the Inbox or see a message on a social network, and a small dose of the hormone of pleasure will immediately enter the bloodstream. Of course, under such conditions it is easy to get distracted.

Why it is bad

Because it causes stress. It is proven that multitasking is the cause of increased production of another substance, cortisol, a stress hormone, which affects everything from mental health to the density of muscle tissue. If you get distracted, you can say goodbye to press cubes, earned with such difficulty. Don’t you like this perspective? You might not answer all the messages, that is all.

But this is not enough. Scientists have found that the possibility to switch to multitasking prevents from coping with things and lowers IQ by about 10 points. You know that you have unread messages, and it means that your productivity has decreased.

To understand the greatness of the consequences, consider just one example. It is known that herbal drugs can reduce mental ability. However, the negative impact of multitasking on the cognitive function of the brain is even stronger.

Caesar could do this, so why should I fail?

If you constantly work, switching from one occupation to another, you can develop this new habit and become an expert in the issue of multitasking. You can also learn how to filter all the information to become a genius of productivity. Which of the two statements is correct?

Not a single one. The researchers suggest that multitasking interferes with perceiving the information flow, so people fail to quickly separate important information from senseless issues. There are a couple of outstanding examples of the people who can do everything at once, but these are the exceptions, not the rule.

What distracts us most?

What makes us break away from work most often?

The greatest evil is perhaps an endless stream of new emails. This is the problem many people face. Friends and colleagues also complain about the incoming letters. We believe that we should answer all the emails, but if we do this, there will remain no time for anything else.

The messages are so deeply embedded in the workflow that many people prefer not to have unread messages in the Inbox. And when there aren’t any, there is a feeling that we have found the Holy Grail of the digital world.

No matter how many new messages in the mailbox we have, they are interrupting. And here’s why:

We are expected to give instant answers

To write and send a reply, you need to spend time. You don’t have to answer right away, you can delay writing the letter until the moment when you are ready to deal with it.

We are always at people’s disposal. Out of the office? Well, we could check our emails using a smartphone or a tablet. What can prevent us from doing so?
Social expectations dictate that we must answer the letters. We don’t want to upset the sender. We use a plugin for mail, which allows seeing when the recipients open our messages. And although we may dislike answering emails immediately, it is difficult to get rid of the irritation when someone reads our letter, but is not in a hurry to answer it.

Anyone can write

It is unlikely that you will send a letter by post to someone you don’t know.

But our approach to electronic communication is different. We are not ashamed to ask for someone’s email in any way. When we finally get it, the hunting season can be considered open. Emails are so impersonal that we can send hundreds of letters to complete strangers.

Mailboxes are filled with “cold” messages. We are wasting valuable minutes trying to filter them, sending them to the archive and into the bin. It is most frustrating that the people who send such mailings receive very little response to them. It makes no sense to send emails with a hint of personalization; they are also deleted without reading.

Letters force you to make immediate decisions

As we look through the letters, we have to make many decisions, and this process loads the brain considerably. Using all the forces for a permanent change of objects of attention, we spend energy on this tiresome brain activity, and then we feel tired and exhausted.

Even popular apps for managing your emails that are designed to prevent you from wasting time to analyze emails do not obviate the need to decide whether to answer the email right now or wait until tomorrow?

How to stop wasting time and become more productive?

If you are waiting for a universal tip, which will immediately solve all your problems, you will be disappointed. There is no universal solution, but there is a tactic that needs to be followed to avoid multitasking and to become more productive.

1. Draft your plans in the evening

This advice is far from being new, but such a method really works. Ten minutes spent in the evening writing the list of major tasks for the next day will help to concentrate on work.

Include the things that you certainly need to finish tomorrow and start to check your email and messages only after you have completed all the items from the list.

2. Use the “tomato technique” of time management

It is a technique of time management, suggested by the Italian Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980-s.

Divide your work day into several 25-minute periods of intense, hard work with five-minute periods of rest in between them. The method is based on the hypothesis that frequent breaks stimulate mental activity.

You need to use 25-minute periods of time to cope with the basic tasks that have been scheduled in the evening. During breaks, you can switch to viewing emails and checking messages.

You can even buy a funny timer in the shape of a tomato to measure the periods of activity and rest.

3. Have a special period in the schedule for checking emails

Many experts advise to include a separate time for sorting correspondence in the schedule.

Choose a line in your diary and devote this part of a day to reading emails, answering tweets and messages, and opening your mail only at this time. Disable messages on your smartphone and in your browser to follow this rule even if you are afraid to miss an urgent letter.

The results

There is nobody to blame for the fact that we have to do so many things at the same time. Forcing ourselves to ignore incoming messages and to try not to switch from one affair to another is no easy task.

Every message that we send helps us have the hormones of happiness and gives a sense of satisfaction, when it seems that we are organized and responsible. The truth is different: we just get distracted from important things.
It is very difficult to stop this. But many people like to concentrate only on work. Try one of the methods that are recommended above and compare your productivity before and after.

P. S. Listening to music is allowed

Don’t worry, you will not have to switch off iTunes! Other areas of the brain are responsible for listening to music, and their activity does not interfere with your work; therefore, it does not reduce productivity.

And what do you do not to be distracted by trifles?