It used to be a badge of honor — a sign of dexterity and skill. And as someone who prizes efficiency and accomplishment, I became enamored with this skill — this multitasking thing.
However, I stumbled on data that shocked my multitasking brain: what I thought might be saving me time was actually hamstringing my productivity. And because sharing is caring, here are a few fast facts that caused me to stop at least four of the nine things I was doing … and reconsider.
When you multitask, you’re actually wasting time.
Health.com research shows that you can’t actually do two things at once. Your brain simply switches back and forth between tasks quickly, creating the illusion of simultaneous activity. The act of switching between activities actually wastes time as you expend your energy on the switch, not the task. Also, as Health.com points out, “You never get ‘in the zone’ for either activity.” Bottom line: multitasking drains your resources and requires more time to get things done, not less.
Multitasking kills your work quality — and increases stress.
That’s a serious one-two-punch. The “skill” you imagine is boosting productivity actually damages your accuracy, making you more prone to mistakes. In addition, multitasking boosts the production of the stress hormone cortisol, causing us to feel exhausted an hour or two into the work day (or earlier!)
Multitasking lowers your IQ.
Yikes. A study from the University of London showed that those who were multitasking while undergoing a cognitive test experienced decreases in IQ commensurate with those who smoke marijuana or pull an all-nighter. In fact, Forbes points out at those who are multitasking function at a lower IQ level — often that of an eight-year-old child.
Multitasking squashes creativity.
Creative thinking and problem solving stems from uninterrupted concentration when you’re “entrenched” in a topic. Multitasking negates the ability to fully invest in one activity and hence hijacks the creative process. And in my line of work (or anyone’s, really!), great work comes from great ideas.
Multitasking beats up your memory.
A 2016 study showed that multitasking damages your memory in more ways than one. The exhausting act of task-switching hampers your brain’s working memory needed for in-the-moment productivity as well as your long-term memory.
These are hefty arguments to reconsider our multitasking ways. But really, I found a more compelling reason to change my approach to work, to relationships and to life.
We miss life.
I discovered that I was missing out. I was missing the moments that make life worth living. Not only are we ignoring vital cues like “Hey, maybe don’t walk in front of that bus while you’re texting.” But you’re missing the side-splitting sarcastic quip your significant other just made about the dog or your child’s biggest dancer twirl yet. You should be camera-ready in those moments, not nose-down on TikTok.
The COVID Stay-at-Home Order has filtered out much of the extraneous noise — extra dinner dates, must-do appearances and social obligations. And the moments that remain are brimming with relational richness and meaning. The precious FaceTime with a struggling friend. The impromptu laughs with a roommate. These snippets were here all along; they were just drowned by the pings of emails and calendar alerts.
Our responsibilities will still remain, but we now have a choice.
Simplify. Invest. Enjoy each moment to its fullest.