Ever experienced multi-tasking? If you are a busy individual, you probably do this all the time- or at least claim to do so as it seemingly seems to have you save time by doing multiple things at once. But what effect does this have on your productivity levels and should you even be multi-tasking at all? This article seeks to find out.
The first time the word ‘multi-task’ was used, it was referring to the ability of a computer system to process several tasks concurrently. But the context of this word have since been moving towards that of the human ability to perform more than one task or activity over a short period of time. One example of this is writing an email while taking a call or watching a video. In reality, unlike multi-tasking in the computer context, human multi-tasking does not entail doing many tasks concurrently, but rather, switching many times between the tasks at hand.
What happens when we multi-task
You may think that multi-tasking makes you more productive, but this is far from reality! Our short-term memory can only store between five to nine things at once. Anytime you are trying to multi-task, you have less attention available to store memories. This short term memory issue is not the only one at hand- a study by scientists from National University of Singapore (NUS) have found that multi-tasking also impairs your ability to form long-term memories, which in turn can spark the early onset of dementia.
If you are trying to accomplish dissimilar tasks, with each one requiring some level of attention and concentration, multi-tasking will fall apart. Multi-tasking reduces your efficiency- it not only takes more time to get your tasks completed if you switch between them; you also make more errors when you do! In addition, if the tasks are complex, the time and error penalty increases.
In fact, research also shows that, in addition to slowing you down in terms of attention quality and amount of errors created, multitasking actually lowers your IQ! A study at the University of London found that participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks experienced a decline in their IQ scores to what they would expect if they had stayed up all night!
One exception to the act of multi-tasking is when you are doing a physical task that you have done very often and you are very good at, you will be able to do that physical task while carrying out a mental task. For instance, if you have learned how to walk (physical task), then you can walk and talk (mental task) at the same time.
Relation to you
Unsurprisingly, multi-tasking has a negative impact on your academics. A study has found that students who engaged in high levels of multi-tasking reported significant issues with their academic work. This is because it is difficult, if not impossible to learn new information while engaging in many tasks concurrently. Another more recent study on the effects of multi-tasking on academic performance showed that using Facebook and text messaging while studying were negatively related to student grades.
Stop Multi-tasking and Start Single-tasking
Knowing it is a myth and realizing the negative impacts of multi-tasking, or rather task switching can have on your brain, is the first step towards stopping it! You can achieve so much more by breaking up the tasks you have to do and plan the time for you to do them. This way, you can concentrate on one task at a time, and soon you will see that you have more time on your hands, without compromising your efficiency!