Updated: Jun 19, 2018
Neuroscience suggests multitasking has negative effects on your time, energy, satisfaction level and your muffin top.
Multitasking is a word we often use to describe how we manage our increasingly frenetic list of activities; it’s how we stay on top of things, tick things off the list, juggling, spinning...
The ability to multitask is often a source of bragging rights on CVs, in interviews, socially. But is multitasking the great skill you think it its? Could multitasking just be hiding how much you procrastinate, which can lead to reaching for that Mocha Frappuccino rather than staying focused on the task at hand?
If we shine a light on multitasking I believe it has us trapped into ineffective strategies of just mindlessly doing. And doing. And doing some more.
Multitasking Test: Think about your day and the list you started with:
What was the big priority for the day & how much time did you intend to dedicate?
How much time did you actually give it?
What were you also doing? Count up how many little things have you undertaken?
How important were the smaller things? (Score 1 = low / 10 = high)
How will you make up time lost?
To what standard will the big priority be now finished?
How much overall satisfaction do you have from how much you achieved in the day?
Justifying Working Hard
We can justify the fact we have worked hard today, so what’s the problem? However, our distractions create unnecessary pressure. Take that 5-minute little job and oh the 15 minutes you took to do that other thing, they add up...zoom out.
Zoom out a week, a month, then a year...the effort to keep up, adds up.
So yes, you are working very hard. You are actually exerting a lot energy on just keep things together. What I found personally sad is our increased busyness doesn't correlate to increased levels of satisfaction, but, according to science, what can actually increase is our waist line. Heres how.
Waist Line Increase
Neuroscience has recently debunked the myth that multitasking is possible our brains aren’t programmed to do more than one activity at a time. Although right now you maybe working on a report, researching a holiday, sipping coffee, dismissing email or social alerts as they pop up or all whilst listening to music. You’re not actually multi-tasking.
Research has proven we are having to switch between all the tasks we are performing. This switching bit is the killer for us as the processing activity needed to switch from one task to another uses up a lot of energy or to be precise, it uses up oxygenated glucose in the brain, which is the fuel needed to focus on the task at hand.
Multitasking to our brains is a bit like having multiple web browser tabs open, to view the browser you have to consciously switch. It takes up the phone’s processing power and drains the battery faster - that’s what we are doing to our own bodies.
I read a paper from Daniel Levitin, Professor of Behavioural Neuroscience at McGill University in his catchily titled article: “A critical role for the right fronto-insular cortex in switching between central-executive and default-mode networks”. His team have proven that this switching comes with a biological cost attached; as we switch from one task to another, we are making ourselves tired more quickly than if we sustain attention on one thing. The results of which causes us to over eat, procrastinate and reach for a coffee that we don’t really need, potentially making us pile on the pounds.
What we actually need is to focus, complete a task. Then take a break. Breaks have been scientifically proven to increase productivity - they allow the brain to recoup so it can process stuff with precision and speed, which is far more effective.
Multitask Journal Test out your productivity by keeping a daily diary, noticing your behaviours will help you identify what the triggers to procrastination are. You can then start to declutter your day, make decisions about what you will focus therefore increasing effectiveness as well as helping your waist line.