How Does Multitasking Affects your Brain? Is it good or bad?

Warning: Multitasking in Progress

Attending a meeting, while also efficiently listing down my grocery list I caught myself wondering – am I really being efficient, or is this multitasking just a highly sophisticated way to justify my distracted brain? Am I really achieving two things at once or ending up compromising both?

If you can stay with me here and avoid the temptation to check your Instagram and ignore the text that’s beeping on your phone and ignore the tweets that have undoubtedly popped up in the 2 minutes since you checked Twitter, you might actually learn why multitasking is entering a danger zone for the brain.

The truth is – human minds are not made to multi-task. We actually just switch from one task to another very rapidly. It is actually like stepping on the gas then hitting the brakes, over and over. Your mind takes up a task suddenly facing a break, and switching to the next one immediately. And every time we do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so! The cognitive risks might even be greater than smoking. The most evident drawbacks of doing so are –

  • Increased production of stress hormones.
  • Excessive brain stimulation is caused by increased adrenaline.
  • Dopamine addiction leads to feeling depressed.
  • More brain fuel is required, and we end up depleting our brain’s vital nutrients.

Each time we decide to switch onto another task, our brain needs a transition time to come out of one zone and dive into the next. While multitasking we deprive our brains from that transition time resulting in the depletion of brain cells that help our memory. So that lecture we listened to while scrolling through Instagram, well it flew right off our heads. To look at multitasking closely, can also seem to be a sign of ADHD where we’re unable to focus on a single task efficiently, constantly craving for something else.

People who rate themselves as efficient multitaskers made more mistakes, could remember fewer items and took longer to complete a variety of focusing tasks than people focusing on a single task at a time. There are three core skills required for deep thinking:

  1. a) FILTERING – the ability to focus on the relevant and ignore the irrelevant.
  2. b) WORKING MEMORY MANAGEMENT – the ability to organize information and retrieve it efficiently.
  3. c) TASK SWITCHING – involves the speed at which someone moves from one task to another.

In all three areas – research found – that multitaskers performed quite poorly. They tend to be worse at differentiating between relevant and irrelevant information, managing their working memory, and slower at switching from one task to another.

A concern even higher is for the current and future generations. The fast-paced world surrounded by electronic gadgets alluring us into multitasking might actually be undermining our thinking ability and essentially ‘dumbing down the world’.

As parents and teachers, we feel the urge to eliminate technology from our children’s studying environment. However, we’ve passed the possibility of doing that without disrupting our relations, and so the best thing to do is to train ourselves and our family sugar free chocolates. Mindful switching of tasks should be taught where children should be able to make the decision of whether or not it is a good time to check their email or respond to a text message. We can enforce phone-free meals and occasional outings to serve the training, making an attempt to save our brain health and of our future generations.

A few things you can do to step down the intellectual treadmill if you feel the urge to multitask –

  • Take healthy breaks.
  • Allow your mind to wander off – unplugging all electronics.
  • Allot specific time to a task and allow yourself to switch only when you hear the alarm go off.

To conclude – if you believe you’re a high achiever with all that multitasking, try focusing on one task at a time and you’ll see achievements even higher!

So, remember to breathe in, breathe out, and don’t hesitate to take it slow. Living by the Chinese proverb ‘when you sit, sit’ might actually be a good idea!