In today’s interconnected world, it’s easier and more tempting than ever to multitask. In fact, many people are proud to highlight their ability to juggle multiple tasks simultaneously and multitasking is frequently referenced as a desirable trait in employment listings. Yet, contrary to popular belief, research suggests that multitasking can actually lead to lower levels of efficiency and accuracy.
True Multitasking is a Myth
First, it is important to understand that true multitasking is a myth. Our brains are not wired to handle multiple tasks at once. Instead, what we typically refer to as multitasking is actually task-switching. Task-switching is rapidly switching your attention from one task to another. While this may create the illusion that you’re accomplishing several things at once, your brain is actually switching focus between the tasks. While these shifts in focus may last only seconds, over time they grow into noticeable deficiencies in results.
The Downfalls of Task-Switching
Switching Cost: Every time you switch tasks, your brain needs to adjust, which consumes cognitive resources. This transition results in a phenomenon called “switching cost,” an occurrence where the time and mental energy needed to switch between tasks actually ends up slowing down progress. In addition to decreasing productivity, switching cost can also cause an increase in errors.
Decreased Focus: When task-switching, you divide your attention, compromising your ability to focus intently on your tasks. This can make it harder to understand complex concepts and hinder your ability to problem-solve. Essentially, you may be doing many things at once, but not doing any of them to the best of your ability.
Impact on Learning and Memory: Task-switching may also affect learning and memory. Some studies have shown that student performance declines in several areas–the ability to learn, reading proficiency, and homework accuracy–when task-switching.
Technology and Task-Switching: Between smartphones, social media, and constant connectivity, technology has significantly contributed to an increase in task-switching. While these technological advancements have certainly had many positive impacts, they’ve also contributed to an environment where distractions are constant and task-switching more prevalent than ever.
How to Reduce Task-Switching
Prioritize Tasks: Identify your most time-sensitive tasks and focus on them first–one at a time. By tackling high-priority assignments, you can relieve the pressure that typically leads to task-switching, while ensuring better quality work.
Time Blocking: Designate specific blocks of time for different activities. During these blocks, remove as many distractions as possible and focus solely on the defined task.
Practice Mindfulness: By consciously working to be more present and aware, you can reduce the impulse to multitask and improve your ability to concentrate on a specific task.
Anticipate and Remove Distractions: Identify your task-switching vulnerabilities–text messages, social media, email, etc. If it’s something you don’t NEED to be monitoring constantly, turn off your notifications or limit them to specific events or contacts.
Less is More
Ultimately, while task-switching may seem like the solution to maximize productivity, it often results in reduced efficiency and results. This is why task-switching should be replaced with a more mindful and focused approach. In addition to increased productivity and higher-quality work, embracing single-tasking can help you feel more accomplished and contribute to overall well-being.