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Multitasking Is Bullshit

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by Ryan Anderson

on 29 April, 2015

It’s a new day, you start out fresh and focused. Sitting at your desk, working away, when you feel the itch to check your email. A quick look wouldn’t hurt, right? You check your email; you have five emails you’re sure you can respond to within a few minutes. While you’re responding, you check your phone, pause to send a text or two, an alarm pops up to remind you of a presentation deadline. Before you know it, you’re multitasking; working on a case, writing emails, texting, reviewing your presentation, and probably checking Facebook or Twitter every thirty minutes or so.

Sounds pretty typical, right? Multitasking has become a function of our everyday lives. From the second we wake up to when we fall asleep, we are at the height of the multitasking craze. Our devotion to multitasking is obsessive, and it’s bullshit.

There, I said it. Multitasking is bullshit! While you’re working on cases, writing emails, texting, reviewing your presentation and checking social media, you feel like you’re accomplishing a lot, but you’re actually working less, stressing your brain and even damaging your health.

What’s Actually Happening When You Multitask?

Imagine that your brain is a processing bottleneck. Multitasking is trying to force as many thoughts and tasks through the bottleneck at once. There isn’t enough processing space for all those tasks, and without a singular focus, you are twice as likely to make errors and take longer to complete tasks. Why does it take longer, if it feels like you are moving so fast between tasks? Each time you toggle between tasks, you are asking your brain to switch context, meaning you are restarting and refocusing every time. During the time it takes for your brain to make that switch, studies show that your brain will make no progress on any issue. The anterior part of your brain, which allows you to leave and return to the same place, becomes overwhelmed by the stress of multitasking, and instead of allowing the brain’s frontal lobes to establish and attain long-term goals, it tries to process activity on its own, all at once.

When you focus on a single task, your processing bottleneck is able to devote all its space and attention to a single issue; it will accept only relevant information, allow in-depth comprehension, build context, encourage greater creativity, and develop higher memory retention.

It’s Not Just About Working Efficiently: It’s About Your Health

Not only does multitasking slow you down, but researchers from the University of London’s Institute of Psychiatry recently found that multi-tasking actually lowers your IQ. Multitasking participants in the study experienced IQ levels that were comparable to what you’d feel if you’d stayed up all night or smoked a significant amount of marijuana. Men who multitasked lowered their scores to the range of an eight-year-old child. Does anyone do their best work after a night of no sleep (or high, for that matter)? Would you want an eight-year-old working your case or interfacing with clients? No, I didn’t think so. While the University of London’s study didn’t stress that these effects are permanent, researchers at the University of Sussex claim brain damage from multitasking might be. Testing showed that regular multitaskers had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, where our brain manages empathy, cognitive and emotional control.

We're Multitasking
We’re multitasking! We promise!

3 Easy Steps To Move Beyond Multi-Tasking

So what can we do in an age that demands we work harder and faster than ever before, with more distractions? Here are three easy steps to get you of the multitasking high and down to your best work.

1. Prioritize Your Tasks

Prioritize your tasks first thing and give your brain some rest. Start your day knowing your priorities and accepting that you will be spending a lot of time with a singular focus. Don’t know how to prioritize and work on the right tasks? Check out our post on the Pareto Principle.

2. Shut Off Distractions.

The IDC surveyed 7,446 US iPhone and Android users and found that we are more reliant on our phones than ever. We check Facebook more than 14 times a day on our phones alone. Put your phone face down, put it in a drawer, or turn it off. The Energy Project Audit found that 69% of workers are easily derailed by email, and the McKinsey Global Institute discovered that we spend at least 13 hours a week on email. Fight the itch to check your email. Set a specific time frame for checking your emails, and arrange an auto-response letting people know you’re not available for a certain period of time. What else distracts you? Think of what you’re drawn to and check out these apps that help you remove those distractions and focus.

3. Focus On One Thing Until It’s Done.

You’ve set your priorities. You’ve removed distractions. It’s time to focus on one thing and work on it until it’s done. You may struggle at first and your mind might wander to all the tempting distractions and pressing tasks, but you’ll feel like a champion each time you complete a task without the strain of multitasking.


No other projects, no texting or Facebook! It was agony, and I made it!