The ability to multitask is something some people brag about. It is a popular strategy to get a lot of things done. It is also the way that many people who struggle with being able to focus operate. But is it the most efficient way to great work?
In business and in our personal lives, there seems to be more going on than ever and we are compelled to try to do it all – sometimes all at once. But the reality is, we just can’t do that. Research shows that we do not actually do more than one thing at one time and our brain is just rapidly switching from one activity to another. According to MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller, “When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.”
In a recent article in The Guardian, research is revealed showing how unproductive multitasking actually makes us. The article shares how quick switches from one task to another leaves a sensation of being frantic, increases the production of the stress hormone cortisol as well as adrenaline, and causes overstimulation of the brain. All of these effects result in a type of mental fog yielding demonstrably less efficient productivity.
Although not a news flash to anyone in business these days, the endless barrage of emails can be the leading cause of distraction and constant multitasking. But here is a scary fact as to what this may be costing us in IQ. While focusing on a single task, the distraction of an unread email in your inbox can reduce your effective IQ by 10 points. I have about 50 in my inbox right now (I wonder what that’s doing)! How productive (and smart) could we be if we shut off our email for an hour and focused on just one thing? In fact, what if we turned everything off and concentrated on one thing at a time?
Perhaps the constant task-changing is really just a distraction from doing our best work. If we want to do something well, we may need to force a sort of “uni-tasking” into our life, both at work and at home. It could help both us both de-stress and improve the quality of everything that we do.