Multitasking: working at the computer whilst on your mobile phone

How many times have you heard someone say, “I can multitask!”? Either facetiously or, with all the smugness of someone who truly believes that can?!

It’s said that women can multitask better than men. Well, they can’t. Men and women are hopeless at it, our brains are not set up to do it and, most importantly, it’s harmful to the brain and gets only half-hearted job done.

In the 2020s, we try to multitask. Our phones and devices tempt us unwittingly to have a messenger conversation, take a look at our Facebook notifications, listen to some music, all whilst watching a favourite television programme!

Most people do this automatically and think that it is quite normal and think of it as efficient multitasking. Now there’s an oxymoron!!  Some people can’t walk down the street without being on their phone at the same time, but they’re doing themselves a huge disfavour.

Here’s the bad news and it’s quite an alarm bell to STOP multitasking to improve your grey cells, performance, relaxation and memory!

Reductions in grey matter……

  1. The cognitive centres of our brain prefer us to stay on one task. Those who ignore this, have been found to have reductions in grey matter (cognitive region). This leads to mistakes and less ability to think straight!
  1. It makes you slower. You may feel as if you were getting lots of little jobs done, but research has shown that you do each a little bit more slowly than if you chunked similar tasks together. For example, reply to all your emails, then check your bank balance, then look at social media. For each set of tasks, you’ll be in a different mindset, rather than switching tasks, which is confusing and inefficient.

Your memory is suffering – you may find that both short-term and long-term memory are at risk.

  1. Your memory is suffering – you may find that both short-term and long-term memory are at risk. When you think about working on a complex problem, only to be interrupted, it’s sometimes difficult to get back into your stride. The same happens with the memory, each interruption, causes a break in communication to the short-term memory and that perfect sentence that you constructed in your head is lost forever!
  1. Multitasking causes stress. A piece of research carried out by the University of California demonstrated that the heart rates of student volunteers with access to email was elevated, compared to the volunteers who had none. There is the stress of hearing or seeing a notification message, which we think we must attend to. If the students were then given a stream of notifications, their stress was more pronounced.

If you multitask regularly, you become more and more susceptible to it

  1. If you multitask regularly, then you become more and more susceptible to it – you fall into the trap ever more easily. It becomes a very unhelpful habit, in that there is less and less priority placed on each interruption to concentration. Each and every notification becomes interesting and warranting immediate action!

What’s important to remember is that the term multitasking was coined to describe the actions of computer systems, not human behaviour. Humans don’t actually multitask that often; we switch activities, we remove out attention from one thing to another. A recent article from Yale University called multitasking an ‘illusion’ and I think that sums it up perfectly

Multitasking or switching attention is something we all have to practise to undo.

Multitasking or switching attention is something we all have to practise to undo. Whilst writing this blog, I stubbornly ignored notifications, but I’m far from perfect when it comes to steeling myself away from temptation!

This is why some activities are wonderfully mono-tasking. When, for example, I go to ride my horse, I think only about riding. Other sports also deserve full attention, like skiing, skating, diving and many team sports. People often suggest that this is what they love their sport, they can only think about what they are doing at that time, the rest of the world has been shut out.

Equally, losing yourself in music or dance can dampen the urge to check social media and email. Find the thing you love to do and allow yourself to indulge in mono-tasking!