Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work and Can Be Bad

We live in a world replete with never-ending responsibilities and distractions. As a result, many people attempt to handle this overload by resorting to multitasking. They may be on the phone while cooking breakfast, doing laundry while also helping the kids with homework, responding to emails while watching tv, and checking Facebook while eating dinner with a friend. Research has shown, however, that multitasking could be bad for you and does not really work.

Why Multitasking is Bad and Ineffective

When we ‘multitask’, we are most often task-switching rather than performing two tasks at the same time as we might believe. We are going back-and-forth between performing multiple tasks. Rarely do we truly multitask (like walking and chewing gum at the same time). In addition to this, there are many reasons why we should reduce or avoid it altogether.

1. It takes longer/is less productive

When we try to multitask, we are really alternating between different tasks, or task-switching. When we do this, it takes a second or two to to refocus when we switch tasks. Now this may not make a big difference if we only switch tasks once or twice. However, most people go back and forth multiple times and this wastes valuable time. It may not seem like much at first, but if we are in the habit of multitasking every day, the time wasted adds up significantly. In other words, it will take us longer to complete our tasks if we multitask rather than focus on one thing at a time. Therefore we become less productive than if we had focused and completed each task separately.

2. Mistakes

Because multitasking dilutes our attention and focus, we tend to make more mistakes and get careless when doing it. The quality of our work diminishes and we are more prone to cut corners. The more complicated and higher the number of tasks, the more mistakes we make.

3. Causes stress

How many times have you heard someone proclaim that they are stressed because they have too much stuff on their plate and are doing too many things at the same time? Multitasking causes us to experience stress because we are demanding more than our brains can handle. If this is not checked, it can even be unhealthy because our brains are producing stress hormones when under too much pressure.

4. We are not good at it

Our brains are not meant to multitask, according to Earl Miller, a notable MIT neuroscientist. We may convince ourselves that we are keeping busy and being productive when we multitask, but the quality of whatever we are trying to achieve suffers. Interestingly, enough, the work multitasking was first coined by IBM in the 1960’s to describe the advantages of a new computer system. The word did not even exist before then.

5. Not good for our memory

When we juggle multiple tasks at the same time, our attention and focus get diluted. This causes our memory to suffer, especially the older we get. That means we will remember the experience and anything we have learned from it less.

6. Missing life

When we multitask, we are really missing out on truly experiencing life. If we are checking your cell phone while eating dinner with our friend while he or she is speaking, we are really not fully experiencing anything we are doing. We are not really listening to your friend attentively, we are not experiencing and appreciating your food, and our texts or Facebook posts have not been given our full attention. It is almost like we are like robots going through the motions without really experiencing life. Instead of focusing on one thing (monotasking), our brains are scattered.

7. Hinders creativity

The highest form of creativity requires the practitioner to be focused and ‘in the zone’ or ‘in the flow’. This is when people lose track of time because they are fully engrossed in creating. When we multitask, we never truly allow ourselves to get in the flow because our focus is scattered. If we want to tap into the full potential of our creativity, we need to monotask.

8. Lose focus and concentration

It is only inevitable that our focus and concentration will suffer the more we multitask. Focus and concentration require practice because they are skills. The best way to do this is to focus on one thing for a prolonged period of time. And when we get distracted, we practice by returning our concentration on the task at hand. Multitasking undermines this practice and has the opposite effect.

9. Not good for learning/lowers IQ

In addition to diminishing our retentive power, a University of London study also found that our IQ is lowered while multitasking cognitive tasks. This means that our ability to learn is affected adversely when we try to juggle tasks. If we are reading a book and trying to learn something while also checking Facebook or email, we will learn and remember less.

10. It can hurt our relationships

One of the most harmful things to a relationship is inattentiveness. When we do not give someone our full attention, it sends a signal that they are not worthy of our attention or that we do not care enough. In today’s information age, too many people are guilty of checking their cell phone, responding to emails, watching TV or YouTube, and reading the news, and other distractions instead of paying full attention to the ones they are with. This can be detrimental at worst, and is impolite and inconsiderate at best. Whether it pertains to our spouse, children, family, or friends, we should focus on them rather than divide our attention.

11. It can be dangerous

Most of us know at least one ‘scatter brain’ in our lives. They are always doing and focusing on multiple things at the same time. They often seemed disheveled and stressed. They are more prone to leaving the hot oven or the iron on, checking their email while crossing the street, not paying attention to their surroundings while walking to their car late at night, etc. Multitasking can actually be dangerous if we do not have the ability to focus when it matters.

12. Less enjoyable

When we are constantly jumping from task to task, diluting our focus and presence, we ultimately find that our lives are less enjoyable. Instead of enjoying the warm water cascading down on us while in the shower, we are simultaneously planning our day. Instead of enjoying our time doing homework with our child, we are distracted because we are also watching TV. Instead of fully enjoying our dinner with a friend, we are preoccupied with responding to text messages. Instead of writing a report at work and being fully immersed in it, we are simultaneously trying to decide what to buy at the grocery store after work. The list goes on. Multitasking reduces our ability to enjoy what we are doing because we are doing too much. In fact, monotasking has many parallels with mindfulness.

In today’s modern world, it may be impossible to avoid multitasking altogether. There will be times when we have to juggle multiple tasks out of necessity.  However, even if we reduced it by 50%, we would learn more, get more accomplished, improve the quality of what we produce, have better relationships, be less stressed, be happier, and our lives will be richer for it.

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