KUTV 2 News Fresh Living Segment and Article, August 2019

I’m here to deliver bad news – You.Can’t.Multitask. There, I said it! Now for the backlash and (likely) my most unpopular article! 

I am certain this is not the first time you have heard that you can’t multitask – there are many articles on the topic.  But, have you heard multitasking is bad for you?  Recent studies show it kills your performance and may even damage your brain. 

Research conducted at Stanford University found multitasking is less productive than doing a single thing at a time. Research has found that people who are regularly flooded with several pieces of electronic information cannot pay attention, recall information or switch from one job to another as effectively compared to those who complete one task at a time.

But wait you say; I have been multitasking all of my life – I am a pro and it is the only way I get things accomplished (true story for me and it was ramped up once kids came into the picture).  In fact, you say, I would win a gold medal if multitasking were an Olympic sport!  Sorry to burst your bubble but researchers at Stanford decided to put multitasking to the test and found dismissal results.. 

Stanford researchers compared groups of people based on their tendency to multitask and their belief it helps their performance. They found heavy multitaskers – defined as those who multitask a lot and believed it boosts their performance were actually worse at multitasking than those who liked to do a single thing at a time. The research indicated frequent multitaskers performed worse because they had more trouble organizing their thoughts and filtering out irrelevant information making them slower at switching from one task to another.

Are you still with me?!? I realize I just crushed your dream of efficiency (I know it crushed mine) but hang in here with me, there is more….

Multiple researchers have found multitasking reduces efficiency and performance as the 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.  That is bad news….but not the worst news – multitasking lowers your IQ.  

A study by London University found participants who multitask on cognitive assignments experience an IQ score decline similar to what you would see if the participants had smoked marijuana or stayed up all night.  IQ was reduced by 15 points which lowered scores to the average range of an 8 year old child.  Put another way, next time you are in a meeting or on a virtual call and you decide to write your client (or worse your boss) an email your cognitive capacity is reduced to an 8 year old!  Do you trust an 8 year old to write that email?  Not me, I don’t!

The research is just beginning to surface on multitasking and brain damage, it is clear we need more research and it is also clear multitasking is showing negative effects.  Research so far has found high multitaskers have less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region responsible for empathy as well as cognitive and emotional control.

TalentSmart tested more than a million people and found 90 percent of top performers demonstrate high emotional intelligence scores. If multitasking does indeed damage the anterior cingulate cortex (a key brain region for emotional intelligence) the resulting lower emotional intelligence capabilities  will impact your ability to communicate and work effectively with others. 

At a minimum, multitasking slows you down and decreases your performance quality while also fueling concentration difficulties, organization issues, lack of attention to detail as well as relationships with others. 

So, now that I have taken away the secret weapon, what do we do?

Here are a few ways to work productively that doesn’t involve multitasking.

  • Eliminate Outside Distractions – turn off all technology distractions and alert others to refrain from interrupting you.
  • Set a Timer – set a timer and only focus on one thing at a time.
  • “Chunk” your Time – commit to finishing a certain number of priorities before engaging in other activities.
  • Schedule Distractions – schedule time to do the things that tend to make you multitask.
  • Mindfully Redirect – be mindful of where your head is taking you, keep focused on the task at hand and redirect attention to that task.
  • Prime Time – schedule harder tasks during the time you are most effective.  If you are a morning person do your more difficult tasks in the morning when your focus and clarity are at their best.
  • Habits and Triggers – be aware of your habits, when do you tend to migrate toward multitasking, what are the triggers or habits that need to be addressed to keep you from multitasking.
  • Take a Break – take a real break, not a break to multitask but a break to let your mind rest – walk around, meditate or just close your eyes, breathe and relax.
  • Airplane mode – put yourself and your technology in “airplane mode” and focus on what you need to get accomplished. 

Interested in learning more about how I can help you be more productive?  Contact me at trigena@me.com or text me at 801.915.4046.