I’ve never been much of a multitasker myself. Whenever I try to juggle multiple things, I get flustered and frustrated. Messing around with my laptop while watching a movie? It throws me off. Chatting on the phone while cooking? Never really been able to.
I have to admit, though, that sometimes doing one thing at a time feels luxurious, even wasteful. So I loved reading that neuroscience backs me up. Everybody loves a bit of validation.
You’re Not Really Multitasking
Scientific research tells us that we can’t multitask at all. All we do is switch tasks quickly. And every little switch from one activity to another takes a toll on our brain performance. Several tests prove that performing two distinct tasks at the same time takes longer, increases the rate of mistakes, and can be surprisingly stressful. Want to try it out yourself? Have someone time you while you write on two different lines “Multitasking is great” and the numbers from 0 to 20, in that order. Repeat then the same activity, this time multitasking. Write down the first letter of the phrase above and then the first number of the sequence. Go on then with the second letter and then the number. Like this:
M u …
0 1 …
I’ll bet that it took you far more time and that maybe you were on the verge of making dumb mistakes.
It Stresses You Out
Think of all the things you’re doing right now. You’re reading this article – it goes without saying. But maybe you’re at work, and you’re also checking your email in another browser tab. Even a menial task like checking incoming mails while performing other activities can increase your stress levels. Researchers at the University of California Irvine found out that employees without constant email access did less multitasking and were less stressed because of it.
You’re Missing Out On Life
I always feel uncomfortable asking someone to stop texting while they’re talking to me. But it’s also completely worth it. The mere presence of a phone within reach reduces your available cognitive resources. 75% of college students walking around their campus while tapping on their phone did not notice a clown riding a unicycle. Even the simple activity of looking at your surroundings was impaired by trying to multitask.
It Hurts Your Brain
You’ve probably already heard of neuroplasticity. Your brain changes with prolonged exposure to specific environments and experiences. Multitasking is among those. Researchers focused on media multitasking (think of your friends texting while watching a movie). They made an unsettling discovery. One region of the brain – the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) – was smaller among people who engaged in lots of media multitasking. The ACC is involved with focus and emotional control. And there is some association between a smaller ACC and increased chances of depression and anxiety. Count multitasking among the activities that are actively damaging your brain.
You’re Not Good At It
You may still think that you’re a great multitasker. That none of this affects you. According to the University of Utah, that means that you’re among the worst at multitasking. According to their research, people who scored highest on multitasking tests do not frequently engage in simultaneous activities because they prefer focusing on one thing at a time.
Is Listening to Music Multitasking?
There are some exceptions, though. While multitasking is generally bad, the right kind of music does not introduce a distracting secondary task. Free-flowing, harmonious sounds help students perform better on a series of intelligence tests. Relaxing background music does not interfere in any way with the processing of information, and it actually decreases your stress levels.