“I am great at multitasking!”
One of two things is certainly true for you: you have said this before yourself, or you know someone who says that about themselves. Unfortunately, according to science, multitasking efficiently is humanly impossible.
Science has shown that the human brain is not well-suited for multitasking, despite the common belief that some people are good at it. Multitasking generally refers to the ability to perform multiple tasks or activities simultaneously or switch rapidly between them. One well-known and reputable study on multitasking was conducted by a team of researchers at Stanford University. The study, titled "Cognitive Control in Media Multitaskers" and published in 2009 in the journal "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences," aimed to investigate the cognitive effects of media multitasking.
In fact, research has concluded that multitasking often leads to a decrease in overall performance on tasks. When individuals try to focus on multiple things at once, they may make more errors, take longer to complete tasks, and have reduced memory retention. The human brain has a limited capacity for processing information, and attempting to multitask increases cognitive load. This can result in reduced attention and difficulty concentrating on any one task.
Switching between tasks also takes time and mental effort. Each time you switch from one task to another, there is a "switching cost" as your brain has to refocus and adapt to the new task. These costs can accumulate and reduce overall productivity and this often leads to a reduction in the quality of work. This is particularly evident in tasks that require deep focus, creativity, or critical thinking. Trying to multitask can interfere with the encoding and retrieval of information from memory too. Information is more likely to be forgotten or poorly retained when multitasking.
It's important to note that some individuals may appear to be better at multitasking than others, but this often reflects their skill in rapidly switching between tasks rather than truly performing multiple tasks simultaneously. Even so, the cost of task switching is still present.
Studies collectively emphasize the limitations of human multitasking and highlight the negative consequences it can have on performance, safety, and cognitive abilities. While some people may believe they are effective multitaskers, the scientific evidence suggests that, in most cases, focusing on one task at a time leads to better results and less cognitive strain.
If multitasking is not really beneficial (some might say not even real), why is it considered a point of praise or pride in our society? Why do we list it as a positive attribute in interviews for a new job, or when we’re taking charge of a new project? Simply put, it’s a matter of perspective. Multitasking “efficiently” gives the illusion of increased productivity and high adaptability. Multitasking appears to save time because it enables individuals to address several tasks at once. The perception of capability plays a substantial role in the value placed on multitasking. The ability to multitask is often associated with being a competent and capable individual, as it implies the capacity to manage a high workload and handle various responsibilities. Being the best, being able to hold the world on your own and never fail - that has been the tune of success for a long time.
In recent years, thankfully, there has been a growing recognition that monotasking or focusing on one task at a time can often lead to better results and less stress. As a result, there has been a shift in some circles towards valuing deep, concentrated work over the ability to juggle multiple tasks at once.
Improved productivity, reduced eros, enhanced quality, better time management, reduced stress, improved concentration and attention, enhanced creativity, and better memory retention are just some of the benefits brought on by monotasking. Completing tasks one at a time can also lead to a greater sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, contributing to your overall well-being and mental health.
But maybe most importantly, monotasking can help with greater work-life balance. By concentrating on one task at a time, you can be more present and engaged in both your work and personal life, leading to a better balance between the two.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Do you see yourself as a great multitasker? Consider giving monotasking a try for a season in your life, and then intentionally pause and reevaluate your mental health.
An accomplished translator and writer, Cami has been in the creative field for nearly two decades. Her experience as a linguist in several fields, paired with her background as a native Latina immigrant (born and raised in Brazil and naturalized American citizen) gives her a unique perspective on the social and cultural context of our society. She has been with Techless since 2022 and currently lives in Michigan with her husband of twelve years, their eight-year-old son, and their puppy Oreo.