How many tabs do you have open in your browser right now? How many items are on your to-do list for the day? And how many times have you felt the gravitational pull to your numerous social media accounts, or to answer a text or a call?
Jayne Cox is now an executive contributor at Brainz and this article was first published on the Brainz website.
It’s no secret that multi-tasking has become the norm in our increasingly busy and connected lives. First coined in 1965, multi-tasking was first attributed to a single computer that could carry out several functions, simultaneously. The idea took off and soon humans picked up on this habit as a tool for productivity, and the rest, as they say, is history.
We’re constantly bombarded with emails, texts, notifications, and various other distractions vying for our attention. And yet, despite this abundance of available tasks, it seems like we’re getting less done than ever, because of multi-tasking.
Unfortunately, all of this multi-tasking is taking its toll on our productivity. Studies have shown that multitasking can actually make us less efficient, not more. So why do we keep doing it? And what can we do to break the cycle?
How does multi-tasking impact on our productivity levels
Multi-tasking, which is defined as the ability to work on multiple tasks at once, has become synonymous with productivity and success in the modern day. However, the stress and anxiety it can cause is linked to a decrease in overall efficiency!
The truth is that multi-tasking simply isn’t an effective way to work. It’s hard to focus on one task when you have a dozen others clamouring for your attention. This leads to distractions, errors, and inefficient use of time.
Recent neuroscience research has identified that multi-tasking can impede our brains from being able to focus properly on a single task or project, and thus slows down productivity levels overall. Basically, our brains find it much easier to take on one task at a time rather than switching from one to another.
By being mindful of when and how we multi-task, we can help ensure that mental stress does not overwhelm our concentration and negatively affect our motivation.
David Meyer, PhD, has said that even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time (source apa.org).
Has there been research into multi-tasking?
Neuroscience has begun to take a closer look at the effects of multi-tasking – and their findings have been eye-opening. Studies have consistently linked multi-tasking to increased levels of stress and anxiety, along with decreased cognitive capacity and responsiveness. Further research indicates that multi-tasking can lead to serious distraction issues, resulting in longer project timescales, long-term damage to productivity and an overall dissatisfaction with work.
For those looking to increase their efficiency and productivity, understanding the dangers of multi-tasking is key – improving time management techniques can help lower stress levels, improve focus and avoid some of the issues that coincide with multitasking.
In an article by Travis Bradberry, he stated that – Research also shows that, in addition to slowing you down, multitasking lowers your IQ. A study at the University of London found that participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks experienced IQ score declines that were similar to what they’d expect if they had smoked marijuana or stayed up all night. IQ drops of 15 points for multitasking men lowered their scores to the average range of an 8-year-old child. (Source Forbes.com)
We all know the old saying that women can multi-task and men can’t. Well, that isn’t true either, according to Medical News Today, experiments have shown that multitasking took its toll on reaction time and accuracy in men and women equally.
How does multi-tasking increase stress?
When individuals try to complete multiple tasks at once, their stress and anxiety levels can skyrocket as they attempt to juggle multiple activities with tight deadlines.
Without proper tools or strategies in place, multitasking can leave individuals feeling overwhelmed and could lead to poorer quality of work.
The key is to take time to prioritise tasks and identify areas that require full focus. Try to complete one task or as much of one task at a time before attempting to take on another task. This is an effective way of managing stress levels and taking control of your productivity.
But how can we stop multi-tasking? Here are some tips to help:
Create a detailed daily list that prioritises what you need to accomplish, focus primarily on the top three in the list and remove once completed
Set realistic goals for each hour or day so that you don’t feel overwhelmed
Break big jobs down into smaller and easier to manage ‘bite size’ jobs
Learn to ask for help and delegate where possible
Make time for frequent breaks throughout the day.
By making some of these subtle changes, you can increase your productivity, free up some precious time and reduce stress levels.