Why multitasking might not be something we want to be good at… The importance of multi task management with a mindfulness approach.
“We’ve moved beyond the era of single-taskers,” says Dr. Kelly McGonigal, author of The Willpower Instinct. “The new reality is that we’re juggling multiple tasks at once.”
Multi-tasking means doing two or more things at the same time, something that seems impossible when we think about our brain capacity. But actually, we do it all the time – sometimes unintentionally. Think about it: while driving we also listen to music. We use multitasking when listening to someone speak, reading a book, having a conversation, and typing on the computer at once!
There is a fundamental issue here, however… The human mind has limited processing power, which is why multitasking can be a lot for our brains to handle.
Multitasking is often a skill people gloat about (deeply rooted in the ‘grind or hustle culture’) but in fact, it leads us to live a very mindless life. Going from one thing to the next but not taking notice of what we are doing or the conversations we are having.
To make matter worse social media does not do us any favors in this department. We have grown so accustomed to doing work while eating lunch while scrolling Instagram while having phone calls that our minds are completely scattered – we are not entirely mindful of either of these things we are doing and over a period of time our attention span lessens.
Chronic multitaskers multitask because they think it saves them time and they can get more done… However, multi-tasking might not be as helpful towards productivity as most people think.
Multitasking and time management don’t go together… although that’s what most people think. It greatly reduces our efficiency and productivity towards a task which results in the task(s) taking longer than if we just focused on one at a time.
Multitasking does not save time… and needless to say, it doesn’t work because our brains aren’t wired to do many things at once.
6 reasons Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work – effects of multitasking
When we think we’re multitasking, most often we aren’t doing two things at once, but instead, individual actions in rapid succession.
1. Increases distractions
Heavy multitaskers may feel distracted because they constantly switch back and forth between different tasks. People who do this often get distracted easily because they don’t give their minds enough time to hone in and focus on one thing.
When we are used to switching between different tasks it decreases our attention span as we are not practicing focusing intently on a single thing for long periods, this increases the chances of getting easily distracted because our minds are used to jumping to the next thing that comes up – even if it is unrelated and not important to the task at hand.
When we try to do two things at once, we get distracted. We lose focus. And sometimes, we make mistakes. Multitasking means dividing your attention among several things. Doing this reduces your ability to concentrate on any single task. People who constantly multitask are more likely to be distracted and perform poorly on a given task. Multitasking makes us lazy. We lose concentration when we try to do too many things at once. Our brain can’t focus on any single task. This affects our ability to learn. So as you can see it is a snowball effect.
2. Decreases productivity
Multitasking takes a serious toll on productivity. Our brains cannot perform multiple tasks at the same time in moments where we think we’re multitasking, we’re likely just switching quickly from task to task. Focusing on a single task is a much more effective approach for several reasons. (verywellmind.com)
Multitasking doesn’t work very well because our brains aren’t designed for it. We are better off focusing on one task at a time. This helps us be more productive and avoid distraction.
Studies show that when our brain switches gears to switch between two tasks, it takes longer and requires more energy than if we were simply focusing on one task at a time. Every time we switch tasks our brain has to start a new neural process which burns a lot of unnecessary energy and can lead to our minds feeling fatigued.
A fatigued brain means a less productive or efficient brain – we now take not only longer to complete all our tasks but we also end up not completing any properly because our minds feel overwhelmed.
3. Instead of speeding work up it slows work down
When you do two things at once, your brain works harder than if you were doing them separately. Switching tasks slows us down.
This might contradict the entire reason why people multi-task – isn’t multi-tasking a skill to learn in order to get more work done?
Changing our focus also keeps us from relying on automatic behaviors to finish tasks quickly. When we’re focused on a single task that we’ve done before, we can work on “autopilot,” which frees up mental resources. Switching back and forth bypasses this process, and we tend to work more slowly as a result. (verywellmind.com
In Psychology, this is known as “task switch costs” and refers to the negative effect multi-tasking has on our efficiency due to the higher demand for mental processes to occur.
4. We make more mistakes
Multitasking lowers your performance and makes you more prone to making errors as your focus and attention are divided. When we concentrate on a singular task at a time we can be more thorough with the execution of the task.
5. Poor decision-making
Multitasking can lead to poor decision-making. We often make decisions based on what we see rather than what we hear. We are therefore more likely to take risks when we are multitasking.
6. It hinders brain function and executive control
Executive function controls multitasking in the prefrontal cortex of our brains. This gives us the ability to think about more than one thing at once. People who multitask may spend less time thinking about each individual task, but they may also make mistakes because they aren’t paying attention to details.
These cognitive processes have two stages:
1. Goal shifting – Deciding to do something but then changing that decision midway and deciding to do something else.
2. Rule activation – Adapting to the new “rules” or “steps” to do the new task.
Constantly switching through these stages means that you never fully complete a process – we eventually then spend more time switching between tasks than actually doing them.
People who do many things at once are less able to focus on any one thing. They are more impulsive, and they may underestimate how much they are doing. They may also be less able to think about what they are doing. They are also likely to be distracted by other things and this makes them feel stressed and frustrated.
Cognitive resources may be involved in the phenomenon. Several networks in the brain work together to guide our behavior when we set out to accomplish a task. These networks include: setting a goal, identifying the information we need to do it, ignoring irrelevant distractions. People who multitask more tend to make more mistakes because these cognitive resources are divided and become limited. We then have that feeling of feeling dissatisfied and unaccomplished.
Multitasking and the brain – multi task learning
According to previous studies, humans may be the only species capable of performing branching, which involves keeping a goal in mind over time (working memory) while at the same time being able to change focus among tasks (attentional resource allocation).
The region of the brain that is involved in multitasking is called the frontopolar prefrontal cortex (FPPC).
Even though we have this ability, unlike other primates, our multi-tasking ability and multitasking performance are not great.
Studies show that when our brain switches gears through task switching, it takes longer and requires more energy than if we were just focusing on one task at all times. When we try to do multiple things at once, our brains become overwhelmed with too many thoughts and ideas.
The brain needs to stop and rest so that it can concentrate on one thought at a time.
The brain works best when it focuses on one thing at a time through cognitive control, and it becomes tired after a while. If we keep switching between different activities, our brains will not be able to focus on anything for long periods and in the long run, this greatly affects our attention span – so it is a bit of a vicious cycle.
When we switch from one activity to another, our brain’s executive functions must shift their focus away from the first activity and onto the second. This takes time and effort, and it slows down the entire process.
This results in less efficient use of our brainpower. The brain uses up its energy and resources to perform both tasks simultaneously.
The prefrontal cortex has been frequently implicated as a brain region that mediates multitasking and the switching processes. Multitasking is commonly shown to impair cognitive performance, as each switch results in a reduction in performance compared to doing one task at a time. However, there is growing evidence that the ability to multitask can be trained with repetitive and adaptive practice. Multitasking abilities have been observed to decline as we age.
Why do we multi-task?
We don’t know exactly why people multitask, but there are several theories. One theory suggests that we multitask because it helps us stay focused and alert. However, research shows that multitasking doesn’t help us pay attention as well as single-taskers.
Another theory says that multitasking allows us to avoid boredom. But studies show that multitasking makes us feel bored and unfulfilled. It also leads to negative emotions such as frustration, anxiety, stress, and anger.
A third theory says that multitasking is an evolutionary adaptation – humans evolved to be good at multi-tasking this is somewhat true – studies have shown that multitasking is helpful when faced with complex situations, like driving a car or operating machinery.
A fourth theory suggests that we multitask because we want to get something done quickly. Research has found that people who multitask are more impatient and this notion is all thanks to our modern lifestyles of ‘grind culture’. We have an incessant need to stay busy and get as much done as possible because that is what we have equated success to.
Which is better Mindfulness or multi-tasking – how to manage multi tasking
Mindfulness is the ability to concentrate on one thing at a time. When you’re mindful, you’re fully focused on the task at hand.
Mindfulness is a great tool for people who want to improve their life. Many studies show that mindfulness helps people become more aware of themselves and others around them. It also helps people deal with stress better.
25 multi task management and mindfulness tips
Why would it be a good idea to replace mindfulness and meditation with multi-tasking?
- Meditation training can improve your ability to stay focused on more than one task at once.
- You can learn to relax and reduce stress while working.
- This helps you make better decisions and remember what you learned.
- Meditation helps you be more productive when working with others.
- You are therefore less stressed out when working with others.
- Your work productivity improves.
- Through mindfully slowing down your work pace speeds up.
- You practice expanding your attention span.
- We take less time to get tasks done – i.e. efficiency.
- Our concentration improves.
- Our work process becomes more streamlined and structured.
- We practice the mindset of “quality over quantity”.
- We become less goal-orientated but more process-driven which provides for a better quality of work.
- You make fewer mistakes
- Our brain feels less distracted.
- Our mind does not wander as often.
- We feel less overwhelmed and anxious by thoughts regarding work.
- We feel more fulfilled and satisfied with our work ethic.
- Our nervous system is more regulated as we approach the tasks with calm and ease.
- We don’t feel time-pressured as often because we take one step at a time trusting we will get everything done.
- We can dedicate 100% of our mental energy to a singular task.
- This decreases the chances of brain fog, mental fatigue, or physical burnout.
- We learn to be present with the task at hand rather than worry about what we still have to do.
- We live in a much more regulated state which is favorable to our mental, physical, and emotional health (as well as brain health).
- We find it easier to enjoy the task we are doing – if we are doing too many things at a time it makes us feel stressed and then everything seems like a chore.
Although mindfulness is a better bet over trying to Multi-task we can also learn to mindfully multi-task. Practicing mindfulness increases our efficiency when we need to perform multiple tasks at once.
Mindfulness over multitasking study:
Researchers recruited three groups of 12-15 human resource managers for the study. One group received eight weeks of mindfulness-based meditation training; another received eight weeks of body relaxation training. Members of the control group received no training at first, then after eight weeks were given the same training as the first group.
Before and after every eight weeks, the participants were given a stress test of their multitasking abilities. Researchers measured the participants’ speed, accuracy, and the extent to which they switched tasks. The participant’s self-reported levels of stress and memory while performing the tasks.
The results were significant, with the meditation group reporting lower levels of stress during the multitasking test than the people in the other two groups. (mindful.org)
People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy.
Heavy multitaskers are constantly distracted by irrelevant things. These distractions prevent them from being focused on what they need to do.
We feel more engaged when we’re getting things done and as a result, perform our jobs better but to do this, we must prevent our minds from wandering off. Our brains are less likely to wander when we’re focused on what we’re doing this means regulating attention so it stays focused on what’s happening right now.
Mindfulness meditation helps you become aware of being distracted by irrelevant information. You recognize the distraction and return to the task at hand. This technique will help you filter out irrelevant information.
Approaching our experiences and tasks mindfully, open-mindedly, with curiosity, and acceptance is how we move through our busy and overwhelmed minds. It’s super easy to get caught in thoughts and to-do lists but if we approach it in a less frantic and stressed way we can make sense of what we need to get done better. This creates a structure and prioritizes what we tackle first.
Meditation helps people focus better by helping them recognize when they’re being distracted.
Being more mindful of one task at a time is much better than trying to do a million things at once. It makes us feel less stressed and in turn benefits our emotional, mental, and even physical health. Aiming to practice mindfulness over multitasking practices focus, increases our attention spans and memory. multitasking might make us busy (or seem busy) but it does not make us productive or efficient in getting things done.