How to Manage Your Time: What Multitasking Does to Your Brain
If your job is like most people’s, you’re asked to do a lot of multitasking. In fact, the ability to multitask is often listed as a requirement for being considered for a job in the first place. Employers expect their employees to be able to handle many responsibilities at once, and coworkers expect their colleagues to be actively searching out additional tasks so that nothing falls through the cracks.
However, it turns out that multitasking might not be the wonderful skill that we’ve been taught to think it is. Not only does multitasking make us less efficient, it also makes us worse at our jobs. Even worse, all that multitasking could be doing long-term damage to your brain.
What Multitasking Does to the Brain
Researchers have done a lot of studies into the effect of multitasking on the body and mind, and they have consistently found that the human brain is just not that good at doing more than one thing at a time.
Sure, multitasking often makes us feel good—look at how much we’re accomplishing by combining tasks!—but the boost in productivity we get from multitasking is an illusion; research has shown again and again that multitasking makes us less productive, by as much as 40%.
On top of that, multitasking also makes us less intelligent and worse at performing tasks. According to a study by the University of London, multitasking causes a person’s IQ to drop the same amount as staying up all night or smoking marijuana, and it also makes them lose their ability to know which tasks are important and which aren’t.
It gets worse from there. Multitasking is so stressful on the brain, it can cause performance, intelligence, and cognition to decrease permanently. In a 2009 study, a Stanford study tested a group of students who frequently multitask against those who don’t. To the surprise of the researchers, the frequent multitaskers performed poorly on all the tasks they were asked to perform, even when they were asked only to perform a single task at a time.
Multi-Tasking Can Cause Permanent Damage
In other words, the negative effects of multitasking aren’t just temporary changes in mental acuity. They can also become permanent.
Clearly, it’s time for a lot of us to rethink how we approach our jobs and our daily life. Rather than accomplishing more and being more efficient, many of us have been approaching work in a way that made us worse at our jobs and might have had a negative impact on our lives as a whole.
The good news is that it’s not too late to change. Studies have found that the negative impacts on cognition and performance caused by frequent multitasking can be undone by training our brains to focus on one task at a time again.
Next time you’re tempted to answer an email while working or jump quickly between two types of work, remember that the feeling you’re getting more done is an illusion. Instead, focus on one task at a time and perform each bit of work as well as possible before moving on.
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