Multitasking Is Destroying Your Performance—Here’s Why

Jillian Knox Finley

Multitasking is mainstream. As a concept, its successful execution is often celebrated as the veritable holy grail of productivity. The ability to perform a range of tasks simultaneously is institutionalized in our culture, so much so that we seldom stop to question its true consequences. 

Can the brain perform more than one task at a time successfully? Recent science says no. In fact, studies out of Stanford University suggest what we call “multitasking” may just be good old-fashioned corner cutting. Instead of nailing three things at once, what if we’re just doing three things poorly?

Sure, the human brain is capable of executing multiple commands. We can walk and chew bubblegum. However, the prefrontal cortex is only able to focus in one thing at a time. The brain has a natural recovery rate when jumping between tasks. There is lag that occurs, which cumulatively (even one nanosecond at a time) becomes significantly wasteful. When the brain starts and stops, it costs us time and energy, resulting in more mistakes and higher inefficiency.

Some studies indicate multitasking causes us to lose up to 28% of our workday. Meanwhile, we’re also sacrificing quality. Simply put, the more you multitask, the lower the quality of your work. It’s a performance suck.

What’s really driving us to multitask in the first place? A flawed concept that every task is urgent and deserving of equal priority and speed? That—and a rush. According to new University of Sussex reasearch, some multitaskers experience a dopamine spike from switching back and forth between tasks. You may be addicted.

We’re not just talking about the workplace. This applies to your social life, as well—say, for example, texting on a dinner date. If you find yourself feeling bored focusing on one thing at a time, consider the fact that your brain may need a reboot. 

To kick the habit, start by minimizing distractions. Train your mind to focus on a solitary task. Turn off your devices. Grab some quality alone time. Get off the multitasking treadmill. Devoting single-minded focus and attention to one thing at a time will produce dividends in all areas of life, allowing you to be truly presentand just maybe 28% more efficient. 

Believe the multitasking hype? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. 

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