How Multitasking is Killing Your Brain

Posted by: The Teamwork team /

The myth of multitasking is that you can accomplish more in less time. There is always the temptation to do more and, with that, the allure of doing multiple tasks at once. That draw to task switch actually splits your focus instead of increasing productivity.

When doing too many things at once, you’re not giving 100% to dedicate yourself to completing each task with your entire brain because the truth of it is that multitasking decreases productivity and accuracy.

You may believe you are an effective multitasker, but consider this: when you are trying to park in a difficult parking space, do you turn down the radio or ask your passengers to quiet down?

That is because you instinctively know your brain needs 100% of its focus to complete the task successfully. This post will help you improve your productivity by facing the three largest issues with multitasking habits.

Bundle distractions

Do things in batches, allowing yourself time to focus, get in the zone, and complete the task until it’s done. Particularly bundle your similar tasks that have the greatest chance of interrupting your train of thought, such as email, voicemail, or texts, then when you are not doing those tasks, do not check on them.

To further focus on the task-at-hand and not incoming communications, silence your phone and notifications. Avoiding distractions, especially social media notifications is essential to maintaining singular focus.

Trying to keep abreast of new emails or talk on the phone while working on another project can lead to cutting corners or causing errors.

Our advice? Set two to three times per day to check email, and if random questions arise, telephone the person directly to ask questions instead of getting caught in the email trap.

Protect Your Time

Multitasking is really a time management issue as much as it is about a setting realistic timelines and priorities. Focus flickering splits attention and deteriorates quality of output and adds up to inefficient use of time.

Switching between tasks takes a fraction of a second. You change files, switch windows on your computer screen, and alter your mindset for the next task, while the clock ticks away.

But the more you switch between tasks and mindsets, the more fractions add up to whole seconds and eventually minutes. Isolating and insulating your tasks not only decreases the task switching time wasted, but also helps you recharge between focuses, thereby letting your brain rest just a little.

Our advice? Alternating between cerebral and autopilot tasks, and on-screen and off-screen tasks can keep your brain from being overloaded, but do so at the right intervals, not so frequently that you are sabotaging your efforts.

Cerebral impact

Overtaxing your brain with multitasking increases chance of errors as well. It is as if you are retraining your mind to constantly flick between focuses and, therefore, lessen the depth and concentration you are able to devote to cerebral tasks.

Critical thinking tasks, such as listening, writing, reading, or calculating should be done alone. If paired, only couple with a routine physical task that you can conduct on autopilot, like walking, folding letters for  a mailing, or shelving paper reams.

However, three or more such tasks bundled are not beneficial. This evidently works because of good old-fashioned cerebral collaboration between the two lobes of your brain.

Our advice? To lessen the risk of lobe overload, partner judgment-laden critical-thinking tasks with routine or autopilot tasks. Combining one physical task and one mental task would be the maximum to not overload the same lobe.

Not heeding this advice and sticking with chronic multitasking can lead to an inability to focus on a single task with great success.

Start the day by setting your goals and determining when you will check in on your bundled distractions.

Choosing just one or two big priorities that trigger your interest and passion will anchor your productivity and tether your enthusiasm to the tasks. Being interested in your work will help you want to protect your time, but also include simpler more mindless tasks to give yourself a break.

Don’t overload your plate with unrealistic expectations so you feel you must rapidly switch between tasks to make headway.

Were you doing anything else while reading this blog post? What was it and how successfully was that task completed with your attention split?


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Michael Einstein

Distractions and Notifications are a huge (and growing) problem in today’s ever-connected, technology-centric world. There was a time that the only distraction was either a doorbell or a phone calls. Then came pagers, then cell phones, then email, and more email, and more email, and smartphones, text messages, IMs, video chats, webex, skype, and on and on.

We now live in a world of constant distractions, and that takes a huge impact on personal productivity and task completion. Many studies done since the early 1950s have confirmed the human brain’s inability to “multi-task”, despite many people’s belief to the contrary. On my little site devoted to Email Overload, I highly encourage people to turn off all Email notifications (audible, visual, and now tactile!), except perhaps for those from the most senior people or for very urgent situations. I have turned off almost all notifications form social media, and I get updates when I do my periodic reviews of those platforms.

In my life, I have determined that there is nothing occurring on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. that is so “urgent” that I must know about it “now”. When I do my weekly review, I will find out about it. If it is urgent, those close to me have my cell phone number (which I do NOT give out lightly!).

What is funny, is that there was a famous study done several years back that showed that the people that are the biggest multi-taskers are actually the worst at it! I have a summary of that study available on my site at:

Technology is great, but only when it is used to improve our lives, not just make them “noisier” and “busier”.

Dr. Michael Einstein

Evin O'Keeffe

Very interesting, Michael. Thanks so much for commenting and for the link to your own summary of the study you mentioned. It is astounding what positive changes in acuity arise even from a conscious awareness of frequent task switching. Again, thank you for reading!


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