A management professor back in college once told my class, “There’s no such thing as multi-tasking, you’re only doing two things terribly instead of one.” While this might be a little too harsh, there’s some degree of truth to this.
The human brain really isn’t built for multi-tasking. Research shows that multi-tasking is really just you switching back and forth between two tasks very quickly. In fact, it can even cause long-term harm to your brain function. This study experimented with hundreds of college students, requiring them to switch mental tasks, filter information, and organize their memory. Although one would expect the multi-tasking students to outperform those that focused on one task at a time, the results showed the multi-taskers to be absolutely horrible at all three tasks. In other words, the study showed that those who frequently multitask actually use their brains less effectively. Here are a few downsides to what’s called “multitasking”.
Earlier, I mentioned that multi-tasking is simply shifting between two tasks very rapidly. But to switch to another task, our brains essentially have to “shut down” the cognitive process for the first task, and then “turn on” the process for the next one. This shift takes time, which cuts into potential productivity and ends up being less efficient than just focusing on one task at a time.
We are all guilty of being addicted to multi-tasking (at least I hope it’s not just me) to some extent. That friend you know that can’t go without checking their phone for a text or email every 5 minutes is addicted to multi-tasking. A Harvard study found that people who multi-task frequently often report feeling a “dopamine boost” while multi-tasking. Dopamine is one of the chemicals in your brain that makes you feel good — so it’s even harder to stop yourself from multi-tasking.
It reduces creativity.
Not only does multi-tasking reduce your productivity, but it also inhibits your creativity. It reduces blood flow to the part of your brain that contributes to creative thinking (part of the right temporal lobe, in case you were wondering). Plus, a Harvard study found that those who focused on one particular activity for long periods of time demonstrated significantly higher levels of creativity. In today’s world, where creativity is crucial for innovation and success, a loss of creativity can be devastating.
So…how should you avoid multi-tasking overload?
This is much simpler than you might think. Companies have access to all sorts of health and wellness initiatives that can help employees tackle too much multi-tasking.
Take plenty of breaks away from your desk — When you are away from your desk, it is easier to relax both your mind and your body. Having too many tasks on your mind is stressful for your body, so take a break. Go for a walk or grab some food; the important thing is to avoid checking your email or messages to just give your mind a chance to de-stress.
Use other methods to help manage your time better — Instead of trying to multi-task last minute to compensate for poor time management, find other ways to budget your time more wisely. This can mean using calendars, apps, or distraction blockers; whatever is necessary to substitute those multi-tasking habits with healthier, more mindful options.
Take on a realistic and manageable workload — One of the most common reasons employees multi-task is because they have a too heavy workload. During busy season, delegate extraneous tasks like database work or maintenance filing to temps, and don’t be afraid to reach out to a colleague for some help. In fact, they might even feel more appreciated if you do!
Do you multi-task? What are some of the things you’ve noticed about multi-tasking? Leave a comment below or tweet at us @aspireperks!