The Myth of Multitasking

If you consider yourself and expert at doing multiple things at the same time, you might want to rethink that.  Multitasking, or doing several activities at the same time, has become the norm for most of us as we try to juggle our busy lives.  Talking on the phone, while you are having a phone conversation, jotting notes while sitting in a meeting, or texting and driving may seem to help you get more done but, according to the latest research, multitasking is not only a myth but is also bad for you in several ways.

When you perform several functions at the same time, they actually may arise from the same part of the brain and are, essentially, competing against each other for your attention.  According to the Brain, Cognition and Action Laboratory, at the University of Michigan, when you perform multiple tasks that each require the same processing channels, “conflicts will arise between the tasks and you’re going to have to pick and choose which task you’re going to focus on and devote a channel of processing to it.”  Essentially, the brain can’t handle two functions at the same time; it actually switches back and forth between activities you are engaged in but it does so between the language channels.  Depending on how you process information, this switch can occur quickly making it seem as if you are doing tasks at the same time.

However, while it may seem to help you cross items off your ‘To Do” list, the act of multitasking can actually create more stress for you, as over time as your lists get longer and results need to occur faster.  The brain will shut down when it feels overloaded, shutting down certain functions like critical thinking.  The more you try to do will actually create more stress and, according to the Brain lab mentioned earlier,those tasks can take “50 percent more time or longer to complete, depending on the complexity of those tasks.”

So what can you do if you are a multitasker (I admit to being in this group)?  Here are 3 ways to make more use of your time and get more done:

1.  Self-regulate – Know exactly what is on your plate, so to speak, and when you need them done.  It can often seem as if there is too much to do so understanding exactly what is on the task list will help you to prioritize.  List every activity you feel needs to get done (you can categorize them if that helps, i.e. finances, household, work, etc.) and then list out due dates for completion

2.  Time-manage – Know how you work best, such as the time of day you are most productive.  If you have several projects that need done, plan for how long it might take to complete, or commit to working on a task for a block of time

3.  Schedule – Once you know tasks and time, you can now put them into your planner, Outlook, wall calendar or whichever way works best for you.  Scheduling allows you time to think, plan, and then act on your projects until they get done

As you can see, multitasking is not an art but a myth.  Uncover your activities and then scheduling time to work on them will put you more in control – you might be surprised at how much you actually get done, and you might be safer in the process!


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