Does Multitasking Do More Harm Than Good?

Photo credit Sean Ganann/Flickr

Photo credit Sean Ganann/Flickr

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:

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? 

1 Comments

  1. This is a great article! And yes, I, too, am a multitasker! Like everyone else, I always say it’s a strength but what I do find is with too many balls in the air I sometimes get sloppy and break something or burn something and then I say “Argh, if I was simply focusing on THIS task only!”

    Having said that, what about doing two to three tasks at a time that sort of fit together? Maybe put a pot of water on the stove to boil and in those few minutes throw in a load of laundry and water the flowers around the house? I ask, because I JUST did this 🙂

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