While we may think that trying to complete one task simultaneously with numerous others will save us time (a scarce commodity in this day and age) and boost our productivity, studies have suggested that it can in fact, have the opposite effect.
A study by Realization, revealed that multitasking can result in a productivity loss of up to 40 percent. In the absence of multitasking, there was a 59.8 percent average increase in the number of projects completed and a 35.5 percent reduction in the time it took to complete a project.
As we frequently switch between different tasks in quick succession, our focus takes a knock and valuable seconds – if not minutes – are wasted as our brains re-adjust to the task at hand. This is called a switching cost. Not only does this slow you down, but it also reduces the quality of your work and prevents you from a completing a task to the best of your ability.
As a comparison, you can liken your brain to a computer – the more windows and tabs you have open, the less effeciency you will have overall.
A journal article from the University of Tokyo found that too much multi-tasking affects the all-important grey-matter density in the brain, which is associted with memory, decision-making and cognitive functions. In addition, people with lower levels of grey-matter also show lower levels of emotional stability, making them more prone to mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.
It makes sense that since we’re switching between tasks and splitting our concentration while muti-tasking, it can leave great room for error. While some people have a short concentration span or thrive on the thrill of being ‘busy’, it is best to provide your full attention to one task at a time in order to avoid negligent mistakes and oversights.
In fact, those who think they are capable multi-taskers are often the ones who are the worst at it, according to health professional Dr Sanjay Gupta.
Focusing on multiple tasks at once uses up more working memory – the immediate and temporary information-holding function in our minds. Acoording to Art Markham, writing for Psychology Today, a better working memory increases our capacity to generate a creative idea. Thus, the more working memory that is used up through multi-tasking, the weaker our ability becomes to use creative thinking skills.
Attempting to complete too many things at once causes unnecessry pressure and will only add to your stress levels. This will eventually force you take breaks, re-group, or restructure your whole working process, which will take up valuable time that could instead be used for something productive.
Instead, try to complete tasks in a calm and systematic manner. Not only will this increase the quality of your work but you will get more done in the long run. As they say, slow and steady wins the race.
When you have to keep returning to tasks due to multitasking, it causes unnecessary repitition such a re-opening apps or programs, or re-reading parts of a document, for example, so that you can pick up from where you left off. The more you do this, the longer you will take to get things done in a thorough and efficient manner.
AUTHOR: Farah Khalfe