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The Truth About Multitasking

This subject matter may sound familiar, but I don’t think there’s any harm to harp on about multitasking as it’s a very effective way of getting nothing done effectively – and it’s harmful to our brains! The truth about multitasking is that it really isn’t multitasking – it’s more “task switching” as suggested here by Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D. for Psychology Today.  Here are some interesting results found from some extensive research on the subject.

The Truth About Multitasking

The Truth About MultitaskingTask switching, not multi-tasking – The term multi-tasking is actually a misnomer. People can’t actually do more than one task at a time. Instead we switch tasks. So the term that is used in the research is “task switching”.

Task switching is “expensive” – There has been a lot of research on task switching. Here’s what we know from the research:

  • It takes more time to get tasks completed if you switch between them than if you do them one at a time.
  • You make more errors when you switch than if you do one task at a time.
  • If the tasks are complex then these time and error penalties increase.
  • Each task switch might waste only 1/10th of a second, but if you do a lot of switching in a day it can add up to a loss of 40% of your productivity.
  • Task switching involves several parts of your brain: Brain scans during task switching show activity in four major areas: the pre-frontal cortex is involved in shifting and focusing your attention, and selecting which task to do when. The posterior parietal lobe activates rules for each task you switch to, the anterior cingulate gyrus monitors errors, and the pre-motor cortex is preparing for you to move in some way. Continue reading on Psychology Today

Not only does the truth about multitasking reveal that you are much less efficient than when you focus on one task at a time, that you make more errors etc, but the fact that four areas of the brain are being used during task switching is related to how multitasking is damaging to your brain. This is a quote from a previous post:

According to a 2009 study by Stanford researchers, those who multitask eventually must pay a mental price. Heavy multitaskers were constantly taxing their minds by forcing themselves to shift abruptly between one activity and the next. This caused significant cognitive impairment, creating some degree of confusion and displacement, the study found. Chronic multitaskers were mentally slower with lower levels of concentration than those who focussed on one activity at a time. In the long term, chronic multitaskers were found to be more forgetful. They might search all over the house for spectacles that are perched firmly on their heads, not remember where they put their cell phones, even have trouble recalling names, faces and important dates and engagements. Continue reading

So…stop multitasking, and focus on one task at a time! Turn your emails inbox flow off, check them once a day before lunch, use a timer to focus on one task at a time for say, fifty minutes, remove all distractions and not only will you be more effective, but you will help your brain too!




  1. […] If you’d like to learn more about how multitasking is damaging to your brain, a study at Stanford University carried out a few years ago is an enlightening read. In short, chronic multitaskers, were mentally […]

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