Is Multitasking a myth?

UncategorizedIs Multitasking a myth?

By Dr Attia Anwar

In our busy lives, we sometimes take pride that we can do many things simultaneously. That is going to save time and we will be more productive. However, research has proved that this is wrong. Our brain cannot pay attention to two things at one time so what we are doing, is switching between two tasks very quickly. Examples of multitasking are starting two projects at one time, listening to the radio while driving to work, and talking on the phone while typing an assignment.

   

Our brain has evolved to do one thing at a time. So when we start doing two things simultaneously and we think we are being more productive, that is not true. Because we have to switch our brains from one task to another task repetitively. This will make our brains work more. There are chances of errors. It will take longer to finish the work. It is draining and we will be tired more.

We think multitasking is going to increase our efficiency and we will be able to utilize less time in doing more. That is again not true. Studies have shown we are juggling between different things. Our brain requires time to switch from one task to another. So this multiple switching will make us less productive and the time taken will be longer. In contrast, if we focus on one thing we will not have to switch, and time and energy are saved. We will achieve more in less time and will be less tired.

Multitasking affects your ability to do work efficiently and effectively in a negative way. The rapid shift to distributed work has increased distraction and disruption. Sometimes we are not doing multitasking voluntarily to get work done, but it has become our habit. We are distracted by continuous information on social media. So we are working on something and opening two to three apps. That is also going to decrease our productivity and we will take longer to finish the work. And after we are done or completed the work we will feel exhausted. Because your brain has to use energy to switch the task and come back to focus again.

Multitasking is controlled by the higher brain. This control determines in which order tasks are performed

In contrast, if you do one thing at a time. You will be more involved in that. Your brain will be relaxed. It would be the unhurried approach. Your heart will also be involved in work. And your end product or results will be excellent. If you work in this way that is, one after another. You will be satisfied rather than tired.

Moreover, if we focus on a single task, we will rely on our automatic behavior which is to finish that task. And we can do that on autopilot if it is something which we have done before. When we start multitasking, we bypass this process of autopilot which frees up mental resources. As a result, we tend to work more slowly.

Multitasking is controlled by the higher brain. This control determines in which order tasks are performed. There are two additional processes in multitasking. One is goal shifting and the other is rule activation from one task to another. It may take one-tenth of a second to do these processes but it can add up and make us slow.

Multitaskers make more mistakes as compared to people who are focused on one task. Research has shown students who multitask have lower GPAs. One study showed adults who multitask during driving, are likely to make more mistakes. Multitasking can be very dangerous in a situation that requires high focus

People who do multitasking all the time will have long-term effects on their mental health. As studies have proved that multitasking is not good for your mental health. People who do multitasking will experience burnout more. Doing several different things at one time can impair your cognitive ability. Research suggests that people overestimate their ability to multitask, and people who usually do that are not skilled enough to do it effectively. Single-tasking which is opposite of multitasking will align your intention and your focus to your work. It will give you mental relaxation. And your productivity will increase. To increase productivity time boxing and scheduled time blocks are more effective as compared to multitasking. People who do multitask chronically tend to show more impulsive behavior. They usually downplay the risks involved with multitasking.

The author Dr. Attia Anwar is a consultant family physician with a postgraduate degree from the Royal College of GP UK. She is a strong advocate of health and well-being and wants patient participation in decision-making regarding health.

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