At some point in time, we thought that multitasking was a positive mental skill. We thought that people who are able to perform a few tasks at once were good at ‘’multitasking’’. However brain research has shown that successful multitasking is a myth. The brain is only able to focus on one thing at a moment, and when you attempt to perform a few tasks at once, it has to constantly switch attention.
While there are people who are generally better at switching their attention from one subject to another, no one can successfully multitask. The more your brain spends time switching attention and refocusing on different tasks, the longer it takes to finish the tasks.
Imagine writing homework and talking on the phone at the same time for example. Not only you will miss out parts of the phone conversation, but you’re very likely to make mistakes in your homework. Then you have to spend extra time to correct those mistakes, and ask the person on the phone to repeat they said because you missed it out.
But why do many of us still feel compelled to multitask, even when we know it harms our productivity?
We Get Easily Bored with the Task and Seek a New One
Most of the time we find ourselves multitasking is when we begin one task, get bored of it, and start a new one hoping it will be more entertaining , while the former initial task still remains unfinished.
When We Have a Lot of Work to Do and Little Time, We Get Easily Anxious and Attempt to Finnish a Few Things at the Same Time
If you are anxious and feel like you are running out of time you may find it a lot more difficult to focus on one task. You might start focusing on one thing, but the horrifying thought of the rest of the work that is piled up distracts you and compels you to pay attention to it.
We Have Formed a Multitasking Habit
When we repeat the same style of working and processing information over an extended period of time, it becomes automatic and often we don’t even realize we are doing it. In our age of we are overstimulated with information and our attention spans are probably shorter than of people who lived prior to the information age.
Multitasking Damages the Brain?
There is actually a good amount of studies that have shown that multitasking alters the brain, maybe even permanently, reducing density in certain parts of the brain. Long term effects of multitasking can result in shorter attention span, poorer emotional regulation, and higher anxiety levels. Fortunately there are a few things you can do to rewire your brain and develop a longer attention span.
How to Stop Multitasking?
Get Away from Distractions
It’s difficult to ignore distractions unless you get physically away from them. Get in a quiet room and ask people not to disturb you. Sometimes we believe that getting in a quiet environment will not help us, but that’s usually false. Don’t Set Too Many Tasks for Yourself People who set daily goals that consist just of one or two small goals usually accomplish more than people who make endless lists of tasks and attempt to finish them all, accomplishing very little at the end of the day. It’s better to take give all of your focus to one thing and get quality results, instead of being all over the place and accomplishing nothing significant.
If You Get Interrupted Get Back to Your Task
Often when we get distracted, we switch our focus completely on the distraction forgetting what we were doing. If you find yourself shifting your attention temporarily to something else, remember to get back on the track.
If you procrastinate you will end up with too much on your plate, and too little time to finish it. At this point anxiety is almost inevitable, and so is poor focus. So make sure you are aware of the deadline and give yourself enough time.
See also: How to Stop Procrastinating
Be Patient and Let Your Focus Develop
Often when we try to focus on something we instantly expect to be 100% concentrated on the task. In reality it may take about 15-20 minutes to develop a solid focus. Be patient and don’t give up if you can’t immediately work with high focus.