In a world of distractions, it is easy to assume that we can handle multiple things at once. Ever watch TV while scrolling through social media?
Drive your car while checking a text message? Multi-tasking is commonplace and yet, the science reveals that it may impair productivity and thinking skills.
Defining multi-tasking as “doing two or more things at once” is actually misleading; our brains are quickly shifting focus between tasks.
So, if you’re reading while also listening to the radio, your brain is rapidly shifting your attention, from reading to listening and back again.
Your eyes must find where you left off on the page, as your memory systems try to retrieve the information you already consumed.
Known as “switching costs,” these actions take just tenths of a second, but deteriorate performance.
Multitasking also impacts other thinking skills. For example, key “executive functions” of decision-making, time management, and risk assessment.
Multitaskers tend to over-estimate their capacity to complete tasks, make impulsive choices, and be prone to distractions.
So, while we may think we’re being productive, multitasking reduces how we filter out irrelevant information and causes us to miss important details.
Multitasking undermines our very ability to do the best we can with what’s in front of us.
Single tasking, where distractions are removed and the focus is on one activity at a time, is a better option, especially for important tasks such as managing finances, writing, or even an important conversation.
Combined with periodic “brain breaks,” single tasking can boost productivity and efficiency.
By focusing without distraction, you are making good use of one of your brain’s most precious and foundational resources: attention.
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