As I write this, the TV is on, I’m texting with Bill, my Gmail is open, and I’ve got a load of laundry in the dryer. I’ve also got 12 tabs open in Chrome (seriously, self?) and I’m kind of thinking about what I want to do for dinner tonight.
I’ve always been a pretty avid multitasker. I like to do several things at once, whether it’s study and listen to music, surf the internet and watch TV, or juggle several work projects simultaneously. It helps to keep me feeling busy, productive, and like I’m using my time wisely.
It also keeps me from every truly committing my attention to just one thing. And, as it turns out, it’s really bad for me.
Truthfully, I hadn’t given much thought to how multitasking impacts me. I just do it without thinking because it feels so natural. As it turns out, though… multitasking isn’t as great as I thought.
A study from Stanford University found that multitasking “reduces your efficiency and performance because your brain can only focus on one thing at a time.”
Bouncing between tasks can waste time instead of saving it, since it takes time to re-focus from one task to another. And then, of course, neither task has ever gotten your full attention in the first place.
Multitasking can also have a negative impact on our:
- Memories — We may have trouble remembering details from either task we’re tackling.
- IQ score — Seriously, multi-tasking can make our IQ score temporarily drop by 10 points or so.
- Eating habits — When we’re distracted while eating, we tend to overeat.
- Relationships — Checking your phone while you’re supposed to be spending quality time with someone can cause some serious frustration.
- Creativity — Too much focus, even when it’s divided up, can harm our ability to think creatively.
- Safety — Driving and talking on the phone is never a good idea, even with a Bluetooth!
- Zen — Those of us who multi-task can actually find ourselves more stressed out.
The bottom line: most scientists, like neuroscientist Earl Miller, argue that while we think we’re good at multitasking, we actually aren’t.
“People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves,” Miller said in an NPR article. “The brain is very good at deluding itself.”
So, okay, I’m deluded, and now I’m simultaneously worried (can I even break this habit?) and relieved (so that’s why sometimes I feel overloaded, stressed, and like my brain is fried!).
I know I’m not alone in my multitasking tendencies, but I also know, given how harmful multitasking actually is, I should attempt to break that habit. Here are some ways I’m going to try to do that:
- Forgive myself for times when I’m not “busy.”
- Start tasks with the goal of finishing them now, rather than later.
- Push myself to work on one thing at a time, even when there are other tasks on my list that need to be done.
- Get comfortable with quiet and stillness, if only for just a few minutes a day.
Wish me luck.
Are you a multitasker?