Some people pride themselves on being able to juggle multiple jobs and somehow “get everything done” by the end of the day. If you want to start a business, grow your business or just get ahead, you should learn this now-there is nothing really good about multitasking.
When I was working in Korea as a teacher I hit a brick wall, so to speak, and came under a lot of stress, trying to multi-task among other things. (See The Wild Bulls of Paju.) New studies apparently are saying that this is not just a wasted exercise but that may very well be damaging an area of your brain that’s essential for your work success.
Research conducted at Stanford University found that multitasking is less productive than doing one thing at a time. The researchers found that people who are regularly subjected to many streams of electronic information cannot pay attention, recall information, or switch from one job to another as well as those who complete one task at a time.
Dr Caroline Leaf in her seminal book “Switch on Your Brain” talks about the dangers of multi-tasking and the benefits of not multi-tasking. I spent a year in South Korea teaching English and everywhere I went I observed what it is like to live in a society where pressure to achieve seems overwhelming and the niceties of grace, leniency (especially to workers) and taking rest, especially on the Sabbath day-all derived from our western Christian culture-seem barely discernible.
I write in my book , The Wild Bulls of Paju, which talks about a spiritual prescription of how to deal with stress, how my wife and I had paused to rest a bit whilst visiting one of the palaces in Seoul, and as I lay back to close my eyes on the stone steps an official appeared from nowhere prodding us to move on : ” No resting!” he said. It was, as I mention in the book, a verbal symbol of my stay in Korea. A wag on a teacher’s forum I joined entitled one of his posts “Korea-the land where fun went to die!”-he must have had a bit of a bad week!
Caroline Leaf calls multitasking a “persistent myth”. what we are doing, she says, is shifting our attention from task to task resulting in two negative outcomes: 1) We don’t devote as much focused attention as we should to a specific activity, task or piece of information and 2) we sacrifice the quality of our attention. (She calls this milkshake multi-tasking.)
This multitasking, she says, causes “patterns of flightiness and lack of concentration that are often erroneously labeled ADD and ADHD. Too often this results in unnecessary medication, which adds fuel to the fire.”
As she says, we forget about enjoying the moment as we focus on our Samsung and iPhones to record life.
Recent Stanford research compared groups of people based on their tendency to multitask and their belief that it helps their performance. They found that those who did a lot of multitasking were actually worse at multitasking than those who like to do a single thing at a time. The frequent multitaskers performed worse because they had more trouble organizing their thoughts and filtering out irrelevant information, and they were slower at switching from one task to another.
So Multitasking reduces your efficiency and performance because your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. When you try to do two things at once, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks successfully.
Multitasking Lowers IQ
Research also shows that, in addition to slowing you down, multitasking lowers your IQ. A study at the University of London found that participants who multi-tasked during cognitive tasks experienced IQ scores similar to what they’d expect if they had smoked marijuana or stayed up all night. IQ drops of 15 points for multitasking men lowered their scores to the average range of an 8-year-old child.
Brain Damage From Multitasking
Caroline Leaf says “milkshake multitasking” decreases our attention, opens us up to shallow and weak judgments and decisions, and results in passive mindlessness.
Only a few decades ago neuro-scientists considered the brain to be a fixed and hardwired machine. They saw the damaged brain as incurable and the focus was compensation, not restoration of function. Dr Leaf and others in their research have shown that we can change the physical nature of our brain through our thinking and choosing. As we consciously direct our thinking, we can wire toxic patterns of thinking and replace them with healthy thoughts.
We can damage our brains through toxic thoughts!
Nothing turns people off quite like fiddling with your phone or tablet during a conversation. Multitasking in meetings and other social settings indicates low Self- and Social Awareness, two emotional intelligence (EQ) skills that are critical to success at work.
Even if it doesn’t cause brain damage, if you keep on multitasking you will simply make it harder for yourself, dear businessman, dear student, to concentrate, organize yourself, and focus on the details you need to focus on.
Making it harder for you to start that business, grow your business or get that exam under your belt.
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Useful Reading: Switch on Your Brain, by Dr Caroline Leaf
The Wild Bulls of Paju: God’s Answer to Fear, Stress and Mental Oppression, by John Reason