Multi-tasking has been proven to heighten mental stress, ruin memory and concentration, and be literally impossible. So why do we still do it?
“As much as people would like to believe otherwise, humans have finite neural resources that are depleted every time we switch between tasks," The New York Times reports. “That's why you feel tired at the end of the day. You've used them all up."
Multitasking is detrimental because it doesn't actually feel impossible. In fact, many people brag about their ability to multitask. As Psychology Today explains, “When you multitask 'successfully,' you activate the reward mechanism in your brain which releases dopamine, the happy hormone. This dopamine rush makes you feel so good that you believe you're being effective and further encourages your multitasking habit." At first, multitasking appears to give us an enormous hit of that rush, and “that's why it's so hard to stop multitasking," Psychology Today says, “because you've conditioned your mind and body to feel that thrill."
In addition, multitasking can make you feel more optimistic, making you less careful about your work and more likely to make mistakes. Ultimately, multitasking prolongs how long it takes to complete a task because we have to go back and fix our mistakes.
Rather than trying to do three things at once, it’s better to focus on one task at a time. What was once simply called “paying attention” has now been given the trendy term of monotasking.
Monotasking is something that needs to be practiced, as our devices today are not conducive to doing one thing at a time. As mentioned previously, we’ve also conditioned our brains to crave background noise and get distracted by even the slightest thing.
A 2014 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that interruptions as brief as two to three seconds were enough to double the number of errors participants made in an assigned task. Put away your phone, turn off the tv or music, don’t check your email, and don’t log on to social media. Now all that’s left is the one task at hand. While difficult at first, eventually you will retrain your brain to be rewarded by monotasking.
If this is daunting to you, there are 3 simple steps to reclaim your focus:
- Only open one browser tab at a time
- Write down your list of tasks for the day and put the list where you can see it
- Schedule breaks so your brain can rest before taking on the next task
Of course, it’s not always possible to monotask, especially at work when you can’t always control how long you have to work on tasks. If this is the case, focus on eliminating the two things that distract us the most: email and text messages. Having specific times throughout the day to check your email and phone will minimize distractions and allow you to get your work done.
If you’re able to monotask just for an hour or two a day, you will be able to retrain your brain to focus and be more efficient. No one is good at multitasking, so the sooner you realize this the better. Just because you think you’re successfully juggling multiple tasks doesn’t mean you are. Focus on one at a time and notice how much faster you get things done!