We’ve all done it, haven’t we?
From texting while driving (that’s dangerous) to scrolling through Instagram while preparing for an exam (equally dangerous). But, guess what? Multitasking simply doesn’t work.
According to a recent study, we are hardwired to be mono-taskers, suggesting only 2.5% of people are able to effectively multitask. Where’s this leave the rest of us? Let’s find out. Here’s three reasons why multitasking is impossible and what to do about it.
But first, what is multitasking?
As you probably know, multitasking means doing multiple things at once, like switching back and forth from one thing to another or performing a number of tasks in rapid succession. Maybe you’re editing an assignment, answering your friends on Messenger, all the while talking on the phone. It seems productive and efficient, right? WRONG! You might be surprised, but multitasking is probably one of the worst habits for working, studying, or, well…life in general.
Today, multitasking is so common that most of us don’t even notice when we’re doing it. In fact, it’s actually expected. Even job descriptions require applicants to be well-versed in multitasking. And, it seems so natural, doesn’t it? I mean, what does it matter if you quickly answer that text? It only takes a few seconds, right? But, did you realize you just switched from one task to another? Yes, you just multitasked.
Bad news for IQ levels
Our brains weren’t structured to focus on more than one thing at a time. A study at the University of London revealed that people who multitasked while performing brain-intensive tasks demonstrated IQ drops similar to people who smoked marijuana or who pulled an all-nighter.
But if multitasking is bad for the brain, why not stop?
There’s a reason why it’s so hard. Each time we complete a task, even a small one, like answering a text or sending an email, our brain releases a dose of the reward hormone, dopamine. And, of course, it feels nice! It’s the same feeling we get when we fall in love or finish exercising at the gym.
Beware, it’s also the reason why we tend to keep bouncing back and forth between small, meaningless tasks without actually getting anything done. Just the knowledge of a new text or email popping up on our phone keeps our brain distracted, which, according to research, also lowers our IQ.
Let’s be honest…is multitasking that BAD?
I don’t know about you, but when I work, I want to complete tasks as quickly as possible, while still obtaining high-quality results. And, let’s face it, most people equate multitasking with speed, since juggling multiple tasks seems logical to reducing time on task. Unfortunately, research doesn’t seem to align with this approach.
In fact, recent studies demonstrate that multitasking can actually reduce your productivity by as much as 40%. That’s almost half your productivity down the drain! And, before you go all, “Well, these results don’t affect me much,” be aware that 98% of the population is bad at multitasking. So, juggling multiple tasks may actually be hurting your productivity without you even realizing it.
Lowered Quality of Work
Multitasking makes it more difficult to organize your thoughts and filter out unnecessary information. Think about it: you’re in the middle of class and your professor is rambling on and on. You’re tuning in and out because you forgot to write a paper that’s due in one hour.
So, while semi-listening to your professor, you’re also researching the ‘impact of global warming’. Out of the blue, your professor asks you a question. Since you’re completely unprepared, you stare back blankly, racking your brain for an answer.
Now, you’re having trouble concentrating on your paper — you’re distracted. Not only has your productivity been reduced, your quality of work has been lowered.
Why? One main reason is this: multitasking has been found to increase the production of the stress hormone, cortisol. So, if you’re wondering why you feel stressed, try thinking about how many tasks you have going on at the same time.
Point taken! So, what to do?
Fighting the urge to multitask isn’t easy, trust me! I’m doing it right now–I just answered a colleague on Slack. I also have a window open on my laptop where I can read interesting research about multitasking while writing this blog in another window. Don’t expect to be able to turn your habits upside down overnight. But, there are things you can do to improve the way you work and study.
Let’s take a look…
Prioritize you work and write it down
Before you get to work, make a list of the most important tasks you need to complete that day. Then, order your tasks from from most to least important. Next, focus all your attention on one task at a time. Complete one task before beginning another. This will make your work as fast and effective as possible.
Be aware of your habits
Sit down and think about your habits and try to be honest with yourself. Since you know yourself better than anyone, you’re aware of exactly what happens when you try to study.
Maybe you keep Facebook open or have your phone sitting right next to your computer. Or, maybe you get easily distracted by noise or people. If these things divert your focus, consider writing your study habits down. Then, come up with a few solutions to avoid each habit.
If you’re easily sidetracked by your phone or Facebook messages, put your phone in airplane mode and close your Facebook window. If noise and people bother you, it could be best to find a quiet place to study.
Put your phone away
Between researching and writing this article, I’ve checked my Facebook, looked at Instagram and opened my email numerous times. My urge to see what’s happening in the world has only served as a major distraction, breaking my concentration on multiple occasions. But somehow, I managed to make the deadline to get this blog published!
What I really could have used was an application that blocks social media and texts from my phone and computer. Luckily, there are a bunch of useful apps that’ll do just that—making it clear I’m not the only one getting sucked up by the black hole of social media and procrastination.
Here’s to shutting down that phone, closing your mailbox and refraining from social media. Just remember: the world’s not going to end while you’re busy studying for a few hours!
Check out these cool phone blocking apps to remain focused while staying on top of your game!
Instead of trying to fight them, fail and wind up stressed, accept the fact that distractions will appear. Schedule time for being distracted and set an alarm when your break should end. In this short break, give yourself permission to check emails, texts, social media, and talk to your friends. Give them your full attention and be present.
When the alarm goes off, you can politely tell your friends that you have to get back to work. Be sure to let them know when you’ll be available again so they won’t distract you during your scheduled study slot. And, don’t be afraid to say no to distractions, even welcomed ones from your friends.
Clean up your workspace
A messy desk negatively affects your focus. Unorganized and random desk clutter is the perfect distraction. So, clean up your workspace before you start studying. This way you can find what you need on your desk at any time. And to really get organized and focus on your studying, try Lix.
I hope these tips are useful for you. But, just remember, it takes time to become a mono-tasker since multitasking is such a major part of our everyday life. Take your time to get to know your habits, when they kick in and what to do about it.
Maybe you’ll discover some additional techniques that help you avoid multitasking. If you do, please share them in the comments below!
Happy mono-tasking 😉