Multitasking may seem like the ultimate super power, but in reality it slows you down, makes you less productive, and negatively impacts your ability to focus.
You’re Actually Not Multitasking
When you’re switching back and forth between reading articles, watching videos while working, or texting while talking to someone, you’re not actually multitasking. According to neuropsychologist Cynthia Kubu, PhD, we’re not doing multiple things at once in those instances. In reality, we’re doing one individual task and then quickly switching to another one, and then back again. This phenomenon is called, more appropriately, task-switching.
Multitasking Makes You Slower & Less Efficient
Each time you stop one activity and switch to another, no matter how quickly, that process is taking time and that time adds up. You’re completing each activity much slower than you would if you were focusing all your attention on one thing at a time. Additionally, you’re more likely to make mistakes.
Task-Switching Also Affects Your Ability to Focus
Task-switching makes it more challenging for you to give your full attention to one thing at a time. Some studies have even shown that people who frequently multitask are less able to focus when they’re only performing one task at a time. This, in turn, affects your ability to learn. Learning requires focus and the ability to tune out distractions and engage in deeper processing and critical thinking, says Dr. Kubu.
It Affects Your Performance in School
One research study indicated that college students who tried to multitask took longer to complete their homework and had lower grades, on average. The study specifically noted this trend with students who engaged in media multitasking (texting, watching videos, using social media) while in class, studying, or completing homework.
Check out our article on strategies for tackling homework if you find that you often multitask while studying. Many of the strategies in that article can be applied to any situation where you need to focus on a single task at a time. Additionally, notice when you aren’t fully engaged in one activity. This might even be if you’re scrolling online while watching a TV show. In that moment practice focusing your attention on just one thing– turn off the show or put your phone away. Over time, these moments of monotasking will help you regain your focus and ability to engage more deeply in one activity. Like building any good habit, it will take time and persistence.
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Rachel is the Director of Marketing at Hodis Learning & Music. She has years of experience in marketing and public relations. Rachel is also an experienced reading, writing, English, and Spanish tutor.