May 8


The Multitasking Myth: Why Your Brain Can’t Handle Two Things at Once

By Adrienne Erin


By Adrienne Erin

In today’s hurry-it-up, get-it-all-done-now world, some people like to brag about their multitasking abilities. It seems like the more some people do at once, the more accomplished they feel. It’s the person talking on the phone while shopping on the Internet. The person cooking dinner while helping with her son’s homework. The person talking on a pair of headsets while driving down the highway. As accomplished as people may feel while doing two – or even more – tasks at once, they may not realize the potential dangers of doing so.

Think about it. When you’re multitasking, nothing of what you are doing is getting 100 percent of your attention. That can result in anything from a botched Internet order, to a burned dinner, or even a serious car accident. If you’ve bought into the multitasking myth, you need to retrain your brain. Multitasking can actually slow you down – not help you get more done.

Multitasking Unmasked

Someone who feels proud of their multitasking is actually doing himself a disservice. There’s only so much your brain can handle at one time, according to experts, aside from automatic activities like walking. When you’re focused on doing something and trying to do something else, your brain actually has to shift gears, making you less productive. Isn’t this what you’re trying to avoid in the first place? When your brain has to stop what it’s working on and switch to a different task, it actually slows you down.

It can also bring you to a complete halt. Statistics from a 2014 texting and driving study spell out all too clearly the dangers of distracted driving. It is clear that nobody can text and drive safely. The study found that in 2011, distracted drivers were involved in 3,000 accidents, which resulted in more than 3,300 deaths and 387,000 injuries.

Although this is an extreme example, it clearly illustrates that there’s only so much your brain can process at one time. Driving requires a lot of focus and deserves your full attention. Other, less dangerous activities deserve your full attention too. When multitasking, you are more likely to make mistakes since you’re split between more than one activity. Also, it’s just plain stressful. Who wants or needs added stress in their lives?

Doing More Can Bring You Less

The dangers, the mistakes and the stress can all have a bad effect on your health. Multitasking can cause other problems, as well. You may find yourself walking through life unaware of little things going on around you. If you’re wandering down the street looking at your smartphone, you may miss out on an interesting street performer or someone selling flowers. In essence, you’ve checked out of your own life.

You may also find it hard to retain new information. Studies have shown that multitasking can disrupt your short-term memory. Since you are not fully focused on one task, you are unable to devote your full attention and are likely to forget key details.

Multitasking can also harm your relationships. When you check your smartphone during dinner, or you answer an email while playing a game with your daughter, you are sending a subliminal message that that person is not worthy of your full attention. Over time, that can do some damage.

Jump Off the Multitasking Train

If you want to stop multitasking, do these things to simplify your life:

  • Do one thing at a time. If you’re writing an important email, put your smartphone in another room and fully focus on what you are doing.
  • Finish one thing before you start another. Finish your email before zipping off to another website to look something up.
  • Get rid of distractions. Close the door to your office, turn off your phone’s ringer and turn off your email notification. Anything that can disrupt you will, and draw you away from what you are doing.
  • Be present. Live in the here and now. Tuck your smartphone into your purse while walking down the street and enjoy the scenery.

By slowing down and focusing on one thing at a time, you will actually get more done. Not only will you be more productive, you will also feel more in control of your life. In the end you will have bettered your work production, personal relationships and even the safety of those around you.

About the author

Adrienne is a freelance writer and designer who is obsessed with social media and learning new things. You can read more of her work on her design blog, Design Roast.

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