The Multitasking Myth: Research Shows Task-Switching May Cause Permanent Damage

The multitasking myth: toggling between tasks isn’t making you more efficient. If you think it is, you may be causing yourself irreparable harm.

multitasking myth

The top twenty five percent of Stanford students are using at least four media at once whenever they are using media, according to a Stanford research study. Are these exceptional students better equipped to multitask? After all, they represent the most elite scholars of their generation.

The answer is a definitive no. These students are not better at studying, Facebooking, watching cat videos on YouTube and tweeting all at the same time.

In fact, the price of all this multi-tasking is higher than most of us had previously understood.

The Real Cost of Multi-Tasking

According to the study, multitasking limits the ability to filter out irrelevant information, organize memories, and quickly switch between tasks. So not only are multitaskers distracted by shiny objects, they also can’t remember where or when they saw that shiny object because they are simultaneously attempting to focus on the task at the hand. Sound familiar? How often do you forget to respond to an email that you read while driving your car? How long does it take you to refocus on writing that email after interrupting yourself to send out a tweet?

In another study, Jacob Frasch, an experienced pianist and graduate of John Hopkins University, was asked to play the piano while doing basic subtraction. Suddenly, both Frasch’s musical and mathematical skills were questionable; he played a number of wrong notes and had to talk through the problem aloud before arriving at the correct answer and getting the song back on track.

Permanent Damage?

Not only are the effects of multitasking non-discriminatory, they also may be irreversible. Clifford Nass, the late professor of communication at Stanford University, said our brains are plastic, not elastic. We can mold our brains, but we can’t just snap them back into shape. By training our brains to focus on multiple tasks at once, we forgo the ability to be laser-focused when we really want to be. There’s no shut off valve, just chronic distraction.

The competition for our attention is growing. Our ability to manage more information at once is not. If you want to be less confused and more precise, it’s time to stop multitasking and start focusing. Complete one task at a time, turn off the TV, and mute your notifications. Re-molding your brain won’t necessarily be easy, but it is necessary if you want to avoid the multitasking myth.

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