Multitasking means trying to perform two or more tasks concurrently, which typically leads to repeatedly switching between tasks (i.e., task switching) or leaving one task unfinished to do another. Multitasking seems like a great way to get a lot done at once. The brain works most efficiently when it can focus on a single task for a longer period. Research shows that multitasking, which means performing several tasks at the same time, reduces productivity by as much as 40%. Research has demonstrated that multitasking affects productivity and brain health. If you are doing several different things at once, then you may be what researchers refer to as a "heavy multitasker." According to several different studies, however, you are probably not as effective as you think you are.
Multitasking while studying significantly reduces students’ ability to recall information. Performing a second cognitive task while studying reduced students’ ability to remember a list of words by 33 % compared to a control group.
‘Social media is nothing but multitasking, with several parallel plots and issues. You might end up reading the news or playing a game recommended by a friend. From the brain’s perspective, social media only increases the load.’
Effect of Multitasking
According to neuroscientists, our brains aren’t built to do more than one thing at a time. And when we try to multitask, we damage our brains in ways that negatively affect our well-being, mental performance, and productivity.
- Multitasking can lead to permanent brain damage – Involving the use of media devices, could permanently alter brain structure after a long period of usage.
- Multitasking reduces efficiency and mental performance – When we toggle between tasks, the process often feels seamless, but in reality, it requires a series of small shifts. It ruins productivity, causes mistakes and impedes creative thought.
- Multitasking reduces focus and concentration - Multitasking creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation.
- Multitasking could make you dumber - Human information processing is insufficient for attending to multiple input streams and for performing simultaneous tasks. quality focus and attention are required for learning, multitasking hinders our ability to learn and interpret information effectively.
- Multitasking creates stress and anxiety - Various studies have shown that multitasking increases our brain’s production of cortisol, a hormone that creates stress. Excess cortisol is produced, when we switch between reading and responding to emails.
- Multitasking kills creativity - Innovative thinking, after all, comes from extended concentration. When you try to multitask, you typically don’t get far enough down.
- Multitasking could reduce emotional intelligence - Emotional intelligence is a common trait within 90% of top performers in any field. Multitasking could damage the part of the brain — the anterior cingulate cortex — responsible for emotional intelligence. The two key components of emotional intelligence, self and social awareness, could diminish significantly due to multitasking.
- Multitasking causes overwhelm and burnout - Shift attention from one activity to another causes the prefrontal cortex and striatum to burn up oxygenated glucose, the same fuel they need to stay on task. Multitasking causes the brain to burn so quickly we feel exhausted and disoriented after even a short time.
- Multitasking leads to stupid decisions - One of the first things we lose is impulse control. Multitasking also hurts decision-making skills.
How the Brain Works
In the brain, multitasking is managed by executive functions. These control and manage cognitive processes and determine how, when, and in what order certain tasks are performed.
There are two stages to the executive control process:
- Goal shifting: Deciding to do one thing instead of another
- Role activation: This turns off the rules (how the brain completes a given task) for the previous task and turns on the rules for the new task
So, when you think you are multitasking you are switching your goals and turning the respective rules on and off in rapid succession. The switches are fast (tenths of a second) so you may not notice them, but those delays and the loss of focus can add up.
Multitasking Bad for Students
In today’s digital world, students have more and more things competing for their attention, whether it’s checking social media while studying or trying to complete multiple homework assignments at once. A study by Common Sense Media found that half of the teens say they often watch TV or use social media while doing homework, and 60%say they text while doing homework. Multitasking can have several negative effects on learning.
The negative effect of multitasking on students:
- A weaker grasp on the information being learned
- Poor retention of the material students have studied
- Higher levels of stress and frustration
- Brain drain from tackling too many tasks at once
- Distractions leading to more time required to complete each task
Students can break the habit of multitasking with the following tips:
- Turn off the cell phone
- Put away anything that is not needed
- Use time wisely
- Stick to a study schedule
- Block distracting websites
- Don’t study in front of the television
- Work in a quiet space
The prefrontal cortex has been frequently implicated as a brain region that mediates multitasking and the switching processes. Multitasking is commonly shown to impair cognitive performance, as each switch results in a reduction in performance compared to doing one task at a time.
Multitasking Damages Brain and Career
Research conducted at Stanford University found that multitasking is less productive than doing a single thing at a time. They found that heavy multitaskers—those who multitask a lot and feel that it boosts their performance—were worse at multitasking than those who like to do a single thing at a time.
Multitasking reduces your efficiency and performance because your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. When you try to do two things at once, your brain cannot perform both tasks successfully.
Multitasking Lowers IQ
Multitasking lowers your IQ. IQ drops of 15 points for multitasking men lowered their scores to the average range of an 8-year-old child. It slows you down and decreases the quality of your work. According to extensive research, multitasking makes you and the people around you measurably less intelligent. When you're multitasking, you reduce your intelligence, as measured by your ability to comprehend what you're seeing and hearing.
Media and technology are very much important elements of our daily lives, and their use can offer many benefits and rewards. Media multitasking among youth has raised concerns regarding its negative effects on youths’ functioning. Heavy multitaskers perform significantly worse, particularly when the tasks require sustained, goal-oriented attention.
When we complete all these small actions, such as respond to email, tweet, or check a text, it creates a sense of accomplishment even though little to no critical thinking has taken place and in reality, not much is getting done. Every time a task is completed, our brains release a little dose of dopamine which is a reward hormone generating feelings of happiness and contentment.
Tips to Stop Multitasking
The best way to protect your brain is to practice single-taking. Focus on one thing at a time and take breaks every hour and a half, to regain your energy. Work in a distraction-free environment — keep phones and media devices out of sight.
- Do important things first in the morning
- Avoid distractions by getting away from distractions
- Establish a regular schedule to think long-term
- Take the real and regular test
- Schedule time for individual tasks
- Don’t start your morning by looking at your phone
- Create a list of daily priorities
- Be prepared to say no
- Keep work areas clean and organized
- Be aware of your multitasking habits
- Consider apps that block distractions
- Turn your phone off when you’re not using it
- Schedule multiple breaks
- Strengthen your focus