The more you multitask, the less you actually accomplish, says MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller.
I often hear people brag about their multitasking skills, but Miller’s research isn’t alone; much of the qualified research says that the more you multitask, the less you achieve. On top of a loss of productivity, multitasking is also believed to increase the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which can over stimulate your brain and cause mental fog or scrambled thinking. Now I understand why I’m always walking around in a fog!
But it’s not easy to just do one thing. Our world certainly doesn’t make it easy to focus on a single task, even for a few minutes at a time. Devices, priorities and other people often step into the picture. So far while writing this short little post, I answered the phone, looked at my email and was called to my cell phone by the beep that has me trained to respond to a text.
Efficiency isn’t the only reason to try to find ways to stop multitasking, though. Doing two things at once actually messes with your brain! According to Russ Poldrack, a neuroscientist at Stanford, if you’re multitasking while you’re learning or studying new information or skills, that information can be sent to the wrong part of the brain. When you attempt to retrieve this knew knowledge, your brain has difficulty finding it because it got filed in the wrong spot.
What should we do with this information on multitasking? In a competitive and busy world, we can’t always close out everything going on around us to focus on a single thing. But we can set aside time in the day to focus on things that are truly important to us or tasks that we know must be done now and done well.
Whether that means mentoring someone in your organization, working on your own skills or finalizing an important project, your email inbox and text messages can probably wait a few minutes.