The Myth of Multitasking
Multitasking has become a necessary part of our life. The world moves at an incredibly fast pace, and we fear that if we aren’t constantly rushing and pushing, we will get left behind. We believe that being a strong multitasker will help us optimise efficiency and productivity. But, as a matter of fact, it only drives our ego and leads to a false sense of achievement.
In reality, our brain is not programmed to multitask at all; complete multitasking is actually impossible, as our brains are only able to focus on one task at a time. As a result, we tend to engage in what is known as “serial tasking”, which involves constantly stopping and starting each task repeatedly. Hence, we are not performing simultaneous actions, but rather completing individual actions in rapid succession.
Multitasking: what happens inside the brain?
Various neuroscience studies have made it clear that humans are made to be mono-taskers, with less than 2.5% of people possessing the ability to multitask effectively. Our tendency to attempt multitasking, by dividing our attention instead of focusing it, has been proven to hinder our overall performance. This is due to the time it takes our brain to reset and focus every time we switch between tasks. Similarly, studies have shown that by increasing the number of things on which the brain needs to pay attention, an internal blockage is created. As a result, awareness of important information is blocked and the decision-making process is disrupted. Therefore, doing multiple tasks simultaneously actually leads to an impairment in at least one of them, which then defies the point of multitasking.
The American Psychological Association recently conducted research into the concept of multitasking, which concluded that it is actually extremely ineffective and inefficient. The transition of switching from one task to another is not as seamless as it feels, due to the time lag that occurs when the brain shifts attention. This can be compared to the slight delay that takes place when a traffic light switches from red to green. Similarly, multitasking takes up to 40% more time than focusing on a single task. When you attempt to multitask, in the short-term, it takes you twice as long to complete your task, as well as doubling the number of mistakes made. Long-term changes impact the brain, as it is no longer able to focus on a single task properly and craves hopping between tasks. It becomes increasingly difficult to deal with a single task, which leads our brains to perceive anything that isn’t multitasking as boring.
But why do we still love multitasking?
The reason is quite simple: because multitasking makes us feel and look productive. There is something incredibly satisfying about ticking tasks off our to-do list, and we tend to choose feeling good over being efficient. Likewise, we tend to mistake productivity, which includes doing lots of things, for input, which is focused on progress and creative problem-solving. As a result, we focus on the immediate satisfaction of achieving, rather than on the long-term success of sustainable effort. Simplified, we completely ignored the wisdom of “quality over quantity”. Because multitasking involves the coordination of numerous different tasks, we are inclined to view them all as equally important. We don’t assess the value of the individual tasks and forget the importance of prioritizing and organizing. Consequently, the more we multitask, the less we accomplish and actually tick off our to-do list. Rather, we lose our ability to focus enough to learn, instead of remaining stuck in a constant loop of ‘doing’.
So…is there a better alternative?
By now we have realized that multitasking is not the answer to our workload and productivity dilemmas. It leads our brains into overdrive, without actually achieving all we intended to, which concocts the perfect recipe for stress. Much like computers need to recharge and recover their batteries, our brains are also not wired to constantly work at full speed. This is where the concept of strategic slowing down comes in as the perfect antidote to a stress overload. When we take the time to intentionally slow down, we have a chance to reground and rest our brains. This allows us to avoid making and repeating mistakes, and instead make more effective choices, as well as prevent further stress and burnout. Likewise, it is important to listen to our bodies, our mind and our environment to choose the right time to take a break. By recognizing internal (or even external) signs of overexertion and stress, we are able to boost ourselves by taking the time to slow down before it leads to burnout.
One of the best ways to implement strategic slowing down into your day is through meditation and mindfulness practices. Not only are these techniques simple and easy to incorporate into your daily routine, but they are also incredibly effective in reducing stress and resetting any negative thought patterns. Mindfulness is more than simply paying attention- it is actually doing so on purpose, in the present moment and without judgment. It is the most advanced form of attentiveness, which results in an internal decision making environment that is stress-free and less reactive. Although it seems like binging on your favourite show on Netflix or scrolling through social media is helping you relax and unwind, these are only temporary fixes that do little to release tension in the long-term. This doesn’t mean a taboo on your downtime at all, but rather recognizing the importance of mindfulness practices for your overall health and well-being. By practicing meditation, you allow your most important tool- your brain- a chance to refresh and restore. And it doesn’t need to take up your whole day! In fact, a simple ten minutes of daily time to slow down has been shown to reduce stress and rejuvenate the brain.
We have designed the Stress Guide app for you for this very purpose. We lead you through a range of guided meditations, breathing exercises and mindfulness tools and tips to help you to strategically slow down. We know that in the long run, it is only beneficial for you to take some time to slow down and breathe. Truthfully- your brain will thank you for it!
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