“Oh, I can actually answer phone calls while revising a presentation due in 30 minutes and tending to a text message. I can do it with my eyes closed.”
Multi-tasking has become the standard to being efficient and productive in the 21st century. If you can do seven things at once, you should put that in your resume. Nothing impresses a prospective employer more than someone who could be a receptionist slash developer slash admin assistant slash manager, yes? I am sorry but chances are, your new employer might appreciate an applicant more who would do one task at a time.
A Psychology Today article states:
A recent article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by three Stanford University researchers offers perhaps the most surprising result: those who consider themselves to be great multitaskers are in fact the worst multitaskers. Those who rated themselves as chronic multitaskers made more mistakes, could remember fewer items, and took longer to complete a variety of focusing tasks analogous to multitasking than those self-rated as infrequent multitaskers. In a recent interview with NPR, a co-author of the PNAS study, Clifford Nass, states, “The shocking discovery of this research is that [high multitaskers] are lousy at everything that’s necessary for multitasking.” Nass concluded that this difference appears to be due to an inability to filter past and no-longer-relevant information from the previous task.
Be kind to your brain
It’s a heady feeling, being able to accomplish more tasks than the others, without skipping a beat. But according to psychiatrist Edward Hallowell, MD, director of the Hallowell Center for Cognitive and Emotional Health in Sudbury, Massachussetts, multi-tasking is a myth. And it’s one they’re trying to debunk, for everyone’s mental health and sake.
It’s an easy illusion, thinking that instead of just one task, you can do and finish three tasks at the same time. But Hallowell proves it wrong, saying that what actually happens is, you are switching your focus back and forth.
That’s because the cerebral cortex can pay attention to only one thing at a time, says Hallowell. “What people really do is shift their attention from one task to the next in rapid succession. That reduces the quality of the work on any one task, because you’re ignoring it for milliseconds at a time.”
Our brains are not exactly made for multi-tasking, unfortunately. When you are working on two dissimilar tasks at once, say, writing a speech and answering a customer service call, your brain gets all haywire. It is not just equipped to process two separate things which both require the same level of concentration and attention. It cannot take two simultaneous and different streams of information and store them into short-term memory.
When something isn’t encoded into short-term memory, it also can’t be retrieved from long-term memory for future use. So either your speech gets laden with grammatical errors, or you can’t remember a thing from the customer service call you just entertained. Can be quite harrowing if these are important tasks.
Distraction can be deadly
How many times have you seen the sign, “Don’t text or call while driving?”
and how many times have you ignored it?
Please don’t be stubborn and stop that habit of texting or answering calls while on the road. Psychology Professor David Strayer of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and an expert on driver distraction shares that anyone who’s on his cellphone is every bit as impaired as someone who’s legally drunk.
Accidents happen even when you’re focused on driving. How much more when half of your attention is on the conversation you’re having on your phone? You can bump the rear end of the car before you, miss a stop sign, or God forbid, side-sweep a pedestrian. And that’s not the worst thing that could happen.
Stop stressing yourself out with multi-tasking
Multi-tasking forces you to be productive because of the sense of urgency it brings. There is this mental pressure to finish all these tasks, and to whose and what expense? Your health. Frequent mental pressure leads to stress, which could compromise your health in the long run. Stress could make you gain unhealthy weight, lose sleep, and spiral down towards self-destruction. We certainly don’t want that.
There is the urge to do several things at once and prove your work prowess so you cannot stop the harmful habit of multi-tasking. You feel like you can take on more because you can divide your time and energy between several responsibilities. Little do you know that keeping this up would eventually cost your ability to focus on one task in the future. Your productivity levels could also suffer as brain becomes tired and overworked in the long run.
So, let’s all decide to avoid multi-tasking and instead prioritise and manage our time well so we could finish all our tasks at hand.
What other tips you can share to avoid serial multi-tasking? Let’s discuss them in the comments section!