time management

Multitasking is More Dangerous Than You Think

Right now, you’re hustling.

You’re hustling at your 9 to 5, trying to finish projects, stay focused, and earn that salary. After work, you keep hustling, putting dinner together, running errands, and tackling chores around the house. Maybe you hustle even harder, picking up a side gig to supplement your income. And you don’t stop hustling on the weekends, using every hour to complete even more.

But should you really be hustling so hard? We all have the same number of hours in a day, and we’re busier than ever — and we’re all trying to get increasing amounts of work done in today’s culture of being extra busy all the time. And being so busy leads us to try to multitask as often as possible.

Before the arrival of the 1980s and personal computers, Forbes writes, multitasking wasn’t such a popular idea. But thanks to the possibility of opening multiple programs, a few windows, and an endless number of browser tabs, we’re now trying to do more tasks all at once. Admit it: you have at least two tabs open right now.

But multitasking is a dangerous game. Here’s why.

Multitasking is the Wrong Kind of Fidgeting

Fidgeting is great for both our brains and our productivity. When we perform repetitive tasks over and over, our brains crave excitement, challenges, and changes. If you don’t give your brain something new to play or interact with, you’ll lose focus at an increasing rate as you literally numb your mind.

Fidgeting gives the brain what it wants. While the bulk of your brain is focused on the task at hand, a small portion will focus on the more “fun” action, or the one that’s different. If you’ve been staring at the same page of a book for an hour, bouncing on an exercise ball while doing so is the kind of fidgeting that’ll engage your brain. The same goes for staring at a long presentation; doodle away or tap your feet and you’ll focus better.

So multitasking sounds like the perfect solution, right? Just skip the loss of focus entirely by trying to schedule your kids’ events for the week while cooking dinner and chatting on the phone — no loss of focus will happen there!

Except multitasking has the opposite effect. When we multitask, we aren’t actually doing two or three things simultaneously. As TIME reports, we’re instead performing individual actions one after the other as quickly as we can. So, you aren’t actually fighting off a loss of focus. You’re just putting pressure on yourself to get more done in less time.

The Human Brain Isn’t Meant to Multitask

On top of the added pressure multitasking piles on our already scattered brains, it’s nearly impossible to accomplish. Our brains literally aren’t wired to be able to handle multitasking.

Instead, we’re designed to focus on just one task at a time. The human brain can’t split its focus equally between two tasks. What happens when you’re faced with two simultaneous tasks? Your brain divides its attention, spending a few minutes or seconds on one before switching to the other. And this continues until you either complete a task or give up.

That’s why, if you’re trying to read text messages while craft an email, you’ll find your eyes darting between the two and your mind struggling to recall which you’re supposed to be doing where.

Multitasking Destroys Your Ability to Complete Tasks

Ever wonder why so many accidents happen as the result of texting or talking on the phone at the wheel? It’s because multitasking makes it impossible to complete a task perfectly.

When we try to do two things at once, scientists find that brain activity becomes reduced in the areas that control attention. If your brain activity slows down, your ability to give your full attention to what’s before you lessens. So, when you’re trying to focus on the road yet have your phone in your hand, your responses slow down — leaving you unable to drive or text properly.

Every time you attempt to multitask, you’re hindering yourself and giving less than your best. Ever felt bad for zoning out during a phone call because you were trying to finish an email? Or totally blank on what you’re supposed to be doing because you started reading a new article on your phone at the same time? You can’t complete anything if you don’t give it your wholly undivided attention.

The More You Multitask, the Less You’ll Learn

On top of all these negative side effects, multitasking also hampers your learning capabilities. Teachers are completely right: if you aren’t paying attention, you aren’t going to retain any information.

The more you try to multitask, the worse you’ll become at learning. Learning something new requires the ability to tune out distractions and less important information. And multitasking encourages us to pay attention to absolutely everything at once. Instead of focusing on the scientific process in your textbook, you’re listening for every chime of your smartphone. Rather than watching your coworker demonstrate a new process, you’re eavesdropping on coworkers’ chatter. And as a result you learn nothing.

Is multitasking truly worth it? Are you willing to accomplish fewer things and perform with worse quality? Do you want to destroy your focus, your ability to learn, and your attentiveness?

Ultimately, multitasking seriously sucks. As Ron Swanson would say, “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.” And you’ll see it pay off again and again.

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