The Science is Clear: Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work
When we think we’re multitasking, most often we aren’t really doing two things at once – but instead, individual actions in rapid succession.
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For nearly all people, in nearly all situations, multitasking is impossible. When we think we’re multitasking, most often we aren’t really doing two things at once – but instead, individual actions in rapid succession.
The neuroscience is clear: We are wired to be mono-taskers. One study found that just 2.5 percent of people are able to multitask effectively. And when the rest of us attempt to do two complex activities simultaneously, it is simply an illusion.
We know what you’re thinking: Who cares? Multitasking. Mono-tasking. It’s all just semantics, right?
Trying more than one thing at a time — especially anything potentially dangerous, like texting while driving — seriously compromises our ability to complete the tasks safely and well. Equally important, repeatedly switching back and forth from project to project, like a hummingbird darting from flower to flower and then back to the original flower, can impair our ability to function at our finest.
Remember this the next time you’re tackling two tough tasks simultaneously.
While we should strive to center on singular tasks, we have technological devices and resources that foster the multitasking myth. Smartphone in hand, earbuds in place, we feel empowered to tackle the day’s assignments all at once or to stay connected constantly.
The concern among neuroscientists studying the workings of the brain is that our tendency to divide our attention, rather than focus, is hampering our ability to perform even simple tasks. This can have an extremely negative impact on:
To isolate out of the multitasking world brings many benefits, in all walks of life and in any setting, including the workplace. It certainly has been an essential aspect of our careers.
People assume that the skill of a surgeon is primarily in the steadiness and precision of his or her hands, and there is some truth to that. But the proficiency of surgery is the ability to single-mindedly focus on a single patient and complete a series of tasks, all in the pursuit of a given outcome that may take many hours to finish.
Surgeons are not necessarily born with this ability to mono-task. We learn it — through hours and hours of surgery, over years and years of perfecting. And it can be quite pleasant. Many surgeons say that their most loved environment in the hospital is the operating room, despite the stress and risk inherent with the job. It is a place of isolation, a safe home from the multitasking world.
You need not be a surgeon to benefit from freeing yourself of the multitasking myth and choosing to mono-task. Whether driving on a long trip, organizing an event, tending a garden or filling an order, we unequivocally perform best one thing at a time. Try it.
This post originally appeared online on TIME Ideas.