Photo by Aldo Gonzalez
“There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time.”
~ Lord Chesterfield
In a rapidly changing world today, everyone have so many things to do that we inevitably multitask.
If we do more things at one time, then we would get more done right? And that is why people talk on the phone, while watching tv, doing their nails and performing kegel exercises. If you don’t know what that last part is, don’t worry about it.
But is multitasking really a good thing? Should you be spending time to master this “ability”?
Well, let’s look at the studies shall we?
Multitasking lowers IQ
A study was done at The Institute of Psychiatry at King’s college London. Here’s how the experiment was conducted:
There are two groups of subjects. Group A had to check emails and respond to instant messaging while doing an IQ test while the other did the IQ without any other tasks.
Needless to say, the distracted group scored lower points than the focused group - 10 points to be exact.
But here’s the interesting part. When researchers conducted a similar study, this time involving marijuana instead of distractions, they only found 8 points drop in IQ.
In other words, multitasking lowers IQ more than smoking pot.
Why? No one knows really. There are some speculations as to the reason why which I will explain later on.
Multitasking lowers efficiency
Another study conducted by psychologist Russell Poldrack, found that “multitasking adversely affects how you learn. Even if you learn while multitasking, that learning is less flexible and more specialized, so you cannot retrieve the information as easily.”
Because for some reason or another, people use more of the learning part of their brain when they are distracted compared to people who use their hippocampus, the part responsible for storing and retrieving information, when they are focused.
That means when we multitask, we lower our efficiency.
There’s also a concept that you should be familiar with about your grain. It’s called the “inner CEO”. This CEO is like the boss of your brain and it controls where resources go and when.
It’s like a computer. When you’re running a program heavy on resources, you might want to shut down other secondary programs first… or the computer would crash. In that case, you’re the CEO.
A study conducted by Rubinstein, Meyer and Evans found that people lost time when they had to switch between multiple task. Why?
Because your inner CEO had to perform two tasks when you’re switching tasks.
- Goal shifting. This is where your CEO says I want to do this now, not that.
- Rule activation. This is where you CEO decides to turn off the rules for this task and activate it again for another task.
Both tasks, of course, takes time. Rule activation alone take several tenths of a second. It may sound little to you but it can really add up.
If you read that carefully, you’d be able to derive that our brains CANNOT multitask. All we can do is switch between tasks very rapidly. So rapid, it almost feels like instantly.
Plus, Eben Pagan once said that it takes about 20 minutes for you to recover from a distraction to be as productive as you were before there distraction.
Multitasking increases stress
A study conducted by psychologist David Meyer found that “multitasking contributes to the release of stress hormones and adrenaline, which can cause long-term health problems if not controlled, and contributes to the loss of short-term memory.”
Another study that I read about a few years ago found that talking on a cell phone while driving a car is one of the most stressful activity anyone can engage in.
So there. The next time you sit down to work, turn off your email client and instant messenger. If you’re like me, you might want to plug out your phone and turn off your cell too! It not only increases productivity, it also increases the quality of your work and the perceived exclusivity of your attention.