Multi-Tasking is Bad For Our Brains

At the start of my career as a Continuous Improvement Officer, I was introduced to the following concepts: 

  1. True multitasking is impossible for the human brain

  2. Multi-tasking causes stress and anxiousness

  3. Multi-tasking lowers your IQ levels

  4. Multi-tasking cost’s businesses money

  5. Multi-tasking lowers productivity and increases error rates

There have been many studies on multi-tasking, and most of them agree that to some extent the human brain is capable of handling multiple perceptual and motor functions, such as talking and eating at the same time, but it cannot handle multiple cognitive functions or truly multi-task.

To demonstrate the above here is a little experiment for you to try at home. Try and think about two or more things at the same time. What you’ll find is that you are switching between the multiple thoughts, but you don’t have two or more thoughts running through your mind at precisely the same moment.

Studies have also shown that when a person multi-tasks, their IQ levels immediately drop by around 10%. That’s the equivalent of trying to function after you’ve had no sleep the night before.

So why should businesses stop or limit their staff multi-tasking?

Firstly we need to understand that switch-tasking more accurately describes what we think of as multi-tasking. According to productivity expert and author of The Myth of Multitasking: “Doing it all gets nothing done”:

“What we are really doing is switching back and forth between two tasks rapidly, typing here, paying attention there, checking our ‘crackberry’ here, answering voicemail there, back and forth, back and forth at a high rate.  It is these switches that cause people to lose time. In this way, switch-tasking causes us to be exponentially less productive…. Keep this up over a long period of time, and you have deeply engrained habits that cause stress and anxiety and dropped responsibilities and a myriad of productivity and focus problems.”

The video below uses a simple exercise to demonstrate just how inefficient switch-tasking is. 

 

By committing your minds full functionality to the task at hand, studies have proven that you not only complete the task quicker but that it is also less prone to errors.  In fact, failure rates in some of the studies were cut by over 50% and productivity rates increased by around 40% when the participants were asked just to focus on one item at a time.

Therefore, by getting your staff to focus and complete one task at a time, you will be increasing productivity, reducing re-work and your staff will be less stressed and anxious.

Switch-tasking also cost businesses heaps of money. In an article published in the New York Times, it’s estimated that companies in the US lose around $650 billion in productivity due to their staff being interrupted unnecessarily. 

It costs businesses because, for each interruption, it takes your employees an amount of time to regain focus on what they were working on. This “time” is wasted time as your team isn’t progressing with the task but spending time recollecting their thoughts in order to proceed with the work. Interruptions also split your employee’s attention between the different tasks they doing which increases the possibility of mistakes.

It’s clear to me that all businesses should consider cutting down on the amount of switch-tasking that occurs in their offices to get the most out of their employees. 

If you have cut back on the amount of switch-tasking that takes place in your office or small business, let us know how you have done it and what benefits you have achieved.  Use the comments box below as we would love to hear all your ideas!

Definitions

Perceptual Functions – how the brain interprets sensory information (sound, touch, taste and smell) 
Motor Functions –  the brains control of movement
Cognitive Functions – the brains thought processes

Resources

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/14/technology/14email.html?_r=0
http://www.brainfacts.org/sensing-thinking-behaving/awareness-and-attention/articles/2013/the-multitasking-mind/
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3553130/

If you would like to shed some of your office tasks onto someone else so that you can focus on whats really important then please visit our main site to see what we could be doing for you.  

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