Recently, multitasking has become a popular buzzword, many people consider their ability to multitask a strength and a skill. Most everyone tries to multitask at some point during their day. Have you ever tried to watch television while answering emails? Or talking on the phone while you drive? Sent a text in class while the teacher is lecturing? Most of us try to multitask and think we are being productive and using our time well. Researchers have been looking into what multitasking is, what it does to our brains and if it makes us as productive as we think.
Many people believe that multitasking is the ability for our brains to focus on multiple tasks simultaneously. However, recent neuroscience researchers studying multitasking found that the brain is actually just switching from task to task quickly. Creating the illusion that we are focusing on multiple things at one time. We think we are successfully completing multiple tasks at once, but we are really constantly switching tasks at a rapid pace, which takes time and exertion of energy. This constant back and forth, start and stop is hard on our brains and bodies. It takes more time and leaves room for more mistakes than if we focused on one task at a time.
Multitasking can also interrupt our ability to learn. Researchers found while it is possible to learn things while multitasking, people will struggle with recall and their understanding of the subject will not be as thorough. This is especially apparent when learning a new subject that calls for more attention and concentration.
Our habit to multitask is becoming addictive. This addiction can be seen through the constant use of our smart phones and technology. Ever been talking with someone in person, you feel your phone vibrate and you pick it up without even thinking about it? You are messaging someone on your phone while talking to the person in front of you. The multitasking habit has trained you to answer your phone while spending time with friends or family and has made you think you can do both at the same time. The more we are constantly switching from task to task the more distractible we become. We are training our brains to have shorter attention spans and reducing our working memory ability. As generations start to multitask at younger and younger ages, kids will begin to grow up training their brains to be distractible and impatient from the start.
Luckily, there are ways we can make small changes going forward. We can try and be mindful about multitasking. When you feel yourself doing it, remind yourself that you are just jumping from task to task and taking more energy to do so. Assign time limits to individual tasks and try to give your energy to one task at a time. Research shows you will be able to focus better, will use less energy and be more productive. We can also try and break our multitasking habits. One step is taking breaks from technology like turning off your phone or turning off your app notifications. The more you try and control your habit of multitasking by limiting distractions, the more intentional habits you can create.
Do you or someone you know have trouble with chronic multitasking? Executive Function Coaching can help with those issues. Please contact our office for more information and scheduling.