Why do I always feel so stressed when I am multitasking?
“The human brain has 100 billion neurons, each neuron connected to 10 thousand other neurons. Sitting on your shoulders is the most complcated object in the know universe” – Michio Kaku
We’d like to think that we can multitask — respond to emails, text messages, toggle between multiple tabs on a browser and scroll through social media feeds, whilst working on important tasks — but, our brains would say otherwise.
According to neuroscientists, our brains aren’t built to do more than one thing at a time. And when we try to multitask, we damage our brains in ways that negatively affect our well-being, mental performance and productivity.
Here are some ways you should be wary of multitasking as it has the potential of killing your brain processing and your actual productivity.
Multitasking reduces efficiency and mental performance
I read an acticle by Earl Miller, a neuroscientist and one of the world’s leading experts on human cognition, attention and learning. He says “when we toggle between tasks, the process often feels seamless, but in reality, it requires a series of small shifts.”
The small shifts you are asking your brain to process is putting it under immense stress. For example, how many of us have swapped between replying to a DM message and writing an important paper. Doing this drains precious brain resources and energy.
Miller’s advice is to stop multitasking altogether, because “It challenges our natural ability to be produce, causes us to make errors, and damages our creative thought processes… As humans, we have a very limited capacity for simultaneous thought, we can only hold a little bit of information in the mind at any single moment.”
Apparently it has been discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to refocus on a task after an interruption. That’s is just one interruption! Imagine the amount of time that could go to waste from repetitive interruptions throughout a day.
So our suggestion is to think next time you’re about to switch between tasks, reconsider.
Multitasking reduces focus and concentration
The author and scientist Daniel Levitin says, “Multitasking creates a dopamine-addiction loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation.”
OMG, I don’t know about you but that explains so much to me…
Levitin suggests that the same regions of the brain that we need to stay focused on a task, are also easily distracted.
Each time we multitask. It could be as insignificant as quickly browsing the internet, whilst writing a blog post. Scrolling social media feeds, whilst fact checking a report. Replying to emails whilst editing a picture. What are basically doing is we training our brains to lose focus and get distracted.
Here’s the bad news. Just like the effects of a stimulant, our swanky brain cells become addicted to the dopamine rush from switching tasks and losing focus. As a result of this, the switching and the dopamine – it is basically nearly impossible to rationalise, deal with and break the cycle.
“Fucking two things up at the same time is not multitasking”
Hector Garcia Puigcerver
“We often think that combining tasks will save us time, but scientific evidence shows that it has the opposite effect. Even those who claim to be good at multitasking are not very productive. In fact, they are some of the least productive people. Our brains can take million bits of information but can only actually process of few dozen per second. When we say we’re multitasking, what we’re really doing is switching back and forth between tasks very quickly. Unfortunately, we’re not computers adept at parallel processing. We end up spending all our energy alternative between tasks, instead of focusing on doing one of them well. Concentrating on one thing at a time may be the single most important factor in achieving flow.”
Multitasking creates stress and anxiety
Various studies have shown that multitasking increases our brain’s production of cortisol, the hormone which creates stress in the human body. Once we’re stressed it is likely that we will quickly become mentally fatigued afterwards. How many of you have had an exhausting and demanding day, and felt utterly bone and brain tired when you get home. The immediate result of this tiredness is, anxiety builds up. Which leads to a stress build up, a likely fight response from your and your brain takes over. We know not multitasking is also stressful, how the hell do you get everything done?
Did you know that one of the main stressors in a creatives life is the “email inbox”. Excess cortisol is produced, when we switch between reading and responding to emails. If you struggle with stress and anxiety, declutter your email inbox as soon as possible. Perhaps colour code the emails and only deal with responses a small number at a time.
Multitasking also hurts decision-making skills.
Let’s talk about constantly switching between tasks, and that fact that we have a very precious “willpower muscle”. Switching is basically depleting it on a tak by task, switch by switch basis.
Decision fatigue may sound rediculous, but it is a common psychological phenomonon referring to the deterioration of quality decisions. It usually and regularly happens after you’ve made a long series of decisions.
Alongside this depleting behaviour, multitasking could also lead to impulsive behaviour and bad decisions. Levitin says “One of the first things we lose is impulse control. This rapidly spirals into a depleted state in which, after making lots of insignificant decisions, we can end up making truly bad decisions about something important.”
If this sounds familiar, you may also be experiencing a significant lack of self-control when it comes to your ability to achieve your goals. The focus, commitment, constant work and behaviour it takes to nail something you have set yourself, especially when it has a timeframe.
Protect Your Brain and Productivity.
Shall we wrap this bomb shell of a post up? We just want to tell you that your brain is just not built to multitask and manage that never ending barrage of information it faces on an hourly, daily and yearly basis. The best way to protect your brain is to practice single-taking, is to schedule your time and take care of your brain and body.
Focus on one thing at a time and take breaks every hour and half to regain your energy.
Work in a distraction free environment — keep phones and media devices out of sight.
Multitasking feels good, but it isn’t worth your time, energy and certainly, not your brain.
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