The concept of multitasking is an inevitable part of our daily lives. We talk on the phone while answering emails, make shopping lists while sitting in meetings and texting while watching YouTube videos. If you do this often it might seem to you like you're a master of doing and focusing on doing multiple things at once. Or perhaps you think that's just the way it has to be if you want to finish all your tasks for the day in time.
But, as much as we'd like to believe that multitasking is saving time and making us more productive, the fact is, that multitasking as we most commonly understand it, doesn't exist.
According to scientists, our brain naturally focuses on tasks one at a time.You might disagree at this point as you can think of examples of tasks that are definitely multitasked in our brain, such as walking and talking at the same time or eating a sandwich while watching TV. But it's important to understand that we're actually talking about paying attention to the task. And attentional ability is not capable of multitasking.
Multitasking as such is only possible if one of the tasks is so well versed that it becomes automatic (for example walking or eating) and if the tasks involve different types of brain processing. For example, it’s possible to read and listen to instrumental music quite efficiently. That’s because reading and instrumental music are processed in different parts of the brain. When we add music with lyrics into the equation, reading comprehension decreases significantly, because both tasks are using the language centre of the brain.
So what is happening in your brain when you think you're multitasking at work? Well, your brain is actually shifting between tasks, but at great speed, so you are under the impression you're actually doing them at the same time. But you're not. Not only is multitasking inefficient, it's also putting a lot of strain on your brain and making you less productive.
When you shift focus from one task to another, the transition is not smooth. The shift between tasks takes time. In fact, according to certain research, up to 40% more time than focusing on a single task. You could actually be losing time when trying to multitask. A research conducted at the University of London showed that multitasking might even lower your IQ.
So next time you're thinking that you need to (or want to) do three tasks at once, slow down and try to prioritize, focus on one task at a time and see if you're more efficient.
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