Should I stop multitasking?

The dangers of multitasking

We live in the age of multitasking. Though a phenomenon of young, elderly people is being dragged into the age by the digital revolution in mobile electronic devices. Teens are associated with multitasking as digital natives, but they don't realize how multitasking affects their thinking skills. We call our phones "smart" but they can actually make us stupid. This may be one of the reasons that underperformance in schools is so common.

Older people tend to be amazed and impressed with the multitasking ability of the young. But all generations should understand that multitasking doesn't make you smarter or more productive.

Source: Microsoft ClipArt /

In school, multitasking interferes with learning. In the workplace, multitasking disrupts productivity and promotes stress and fatigue. Multitasking creates the illusion of parallel activity, but requires mental switching from one task to another. This drains the glucose fuel the brain needs, making the brain less efficient and making it feel tired.

NeuroscientistDan Levitan reminds us that multitasking is stressful, as indicated by increased secretion of cortisol and adrenaline. He cites work showing that IQ can temporarily lose 10 points when multitasking. A brain scan study showed that new information is being processed in the wrong parts of the brain, not the hippocampus, which it should go to to be remembered. The most insidious aspect of multitasking is that it programs the brain to work in this mode, creating a debilitating thinking habit that is permanent.

Constant switching creates a distractible state in which it is never fully present. It trains the brain to have short-circuiting heeding tension and shrinking working memory capacity. This is especially harmful in young people who are most likely to multitask and whose brains are most vulnerable to programming bad habits.

Not only does multitasking become a habit, it is also addicting. I see many teenagers who appear to have withdrawal symptoms when they cannot check their phone messages every few minutes. Email messages send a related signal that someone thinks you are important enough to contact. This offers a powerful reward for personal affirmation. Worse, like with slot machine payouts, the reinforcement is random, which is the most effective way to condition the behavior. It makes us trained seals.

Why does someone bother with behaviors that can make them a trained seal? A study shows that the susceptibility to changing tasks depends on the existing mental state. The researchers monitored 32 nearly equivalent gender information workers in the work environment for five days. Workers were more likely to switch their tasks on Facebook or face-to-face conversations when doing red tasks that were presumably boring. When they were focused, they were more likely to switch to email. The time wasted on Facebook and email increased in proportion to the size of the job change. Overall, workers wrote an average of 21 times a day on Facebook and 74 times by email. Although the total time outside of the task was small (around 10 minutes on Facebook and 35 minutes on email), the excessive switching of tasks must certainly have affected the productivity of the primary work tasks. Why does someone have to check Facebook 21 times? Day or email 74 times a day? This is compulsive behavior that has affected the entire workforce like an infectious disease.

How do you break the multitasking habit? The most obvious way is to reduce the chance. Turn off the cell phone. They don't have to be accessible to everyone at all times. Don't start the email app and turn off the feature that notifies you of the arrival of every new message, if it's turned on. If you don't need a computer or the Internet to do the job you're working on, don't turn on your electronic devices. If a computer is needed, don't start the browser until you actually need it.

Be more aware of your current mental state as it affects your distractibility. When you're doing boring work, there are ways to make it less boring and therefore less tempting to switch tasks. If you are doing a dedicated job, you should focus on such work for longer and longer. set gates to increase the time spent on the task. You should be able to maintain focus for at least 30 minutes. Just as multitasking can create bad habits, mental discipline can create good attentiveness and thinking habits.


Levitin, Daniel J. 2015. Why the modern world is bad for your brain. The guard. January 18th.

Mark, G. et al. 2015. Concentrated, excited, but so distracting: A temporal perspective on multitasking and communication. ACM Digital Library. https: // ...

Mark, Gloria. 2015. Multitasking in the digital age. doi: 10.2200 / S00635ED1V01Y201503HCI029. Morgan and Claypool.