Have you ever felt as though you're not as productive as you'd like to be, even when it seems as though you're working all the time? Perhaps the problem is not the number of hours that you're working, but instead, the focus that you're bringing to each particular task. Studies have shown that multitasking can be incredibly bad for our brains, and is truly a way of doing more things incompetently instead of getting more done! If you're always checking Facebook, waiting for your email inbox to ding like one of Pavlov's dogs, or getting interrupted by physical visitors at your desk, you're not going to be as effective and efficient as you'd like to be. The outcome? More stress -- and that's something we can all do without!
Your Brain on Multitasking
Did you know that your brain is incapable of multitasking? It's true, and what your brain is doing when you think you're ultra-productive is pinging back and forth between tasks at a high rate of speed. The problem is that things often get lost in translation or fall between the cracks of our mental map, making it tough to figure out where we were in a task we abandoned a few minutes before. This "epidemic of distraction" (as some researchers label multitasking) is incredibly prevalent in modern society and starts at a very young age. The cognitive overload that we suffer as a result of multitasking can cause headaches, poor sleep, a feeling of being overwhelmed, and even depression.
Dangers of Multitasking
It's not too strong of a word to say that multitasking is dangerous to our brain because it is. This negative practice has been shown to decrease creativity and cognitive control, and lead to serious memory problems. The more you include multitasking in your daily work, the more likely you are to become distracted easily over a longer period. Think about it: if you're training your brain to be looking for the next distraction constantly, then are you likely to be able to focus well on one task? Probably not. Even something as seemingly simple as glancing at your phone as you're stepping off a curb can be dangerous to your health for a variety of reasons. If you're fortunate enough to be out of the way of oncoming traffic, your gait may be affected by your distraction causing a serious fall on the unstable or uneven ground.
One of the best ways to overcome a tendency to multitask is to create mental space for yourself to focus on one task at a time, also known as mindfulness. Try stopping yourself when you start to become distracted. Put away everything else on your desk or computer, close programs (don't minimize them!), and create a space for yourself to think and to breathe.
Don't let yourself fall into the trap of feeling like you need to work at double speed -- and multitask -- to get everything done. Instead, take a break and focus on getting the most out of each busy day. When you're able to concentrate on one task at a time, you'll find that you're getting a lot more done and staying calmer in the long run.