Research Says Multitasking is Bad For Your Career and Health

Blue keyboard with shift key showing information overload in crimson

I’m crunching numbers from our veterinarian panel for a client’s pet research project. Simultaneously, I’m working on an article for the blog, checking email, and bouncing ideas with the team on Skype Instant Messenger. At some point, I eye the company’s Twitter feed. I’m being productive. I’m multitasking like the rest of our advanced, tech society.

I’m harming my work and my very mind!

This may sound alarmist, bordering on histrionics, but as someone involved in market research I have to go beyond convention and face the sober data.

And it says that multitasking in not a beneficial enterprise, professionally or personally. Let me share with you the sober data.


Why Do We Multitask?


According to research, 80% of individuals multitask at work. The reasons posed—beyond an aggressive work society in brittle economic times—is that everyone is being bombarded from all corners by various forms of broadcasting. A report from ZenithOptimedia states that “we now spend more than eight hours a day consuming media.”

Our natural response to this shelling of data has been to react aggressively in a multi-front, sensory manner. In a way, this has caused the ADD-ing of the population—as we attempt to engage information overload by fragmenting our attention, and as well to squeeze more minutes out of the day.

In What Will You Do When Your Customers No Longer Have Attention Spans? I provided stark figures supporting the ADD-ing of American culture. This included the reality that five minutes is the average attention span of a person, a drop from 12 minutes only 10 years ago. Some experts contend that the attention span of a human being is actually shorter than that of a goldfish.

This logically cannot be getting us closer to work efficiency and having a computer-mind…but call me radical…


Multitasking Is Bad For Business


A Hubspot article details findings from Velocity, stating that “more than 31 workweeks are lost each year due to multitasking. That’s more than half the year!”

The research furthermore reports that:

–  $650 billion are lost yearly in the U.S. because of multitasking.
–  It takes four times the amount of energy to recognize new things when multitasking.
–  More mistakes are made when multitasking than when prioritizing.
–  Multitasking has a 41% higher chance of creating mental blocks.

The article, on the other hand, provides the benefits of not multitasking at work:

On the bright side, prioritization can drastically reduce the lost productivity costs associated with multitasking. For example, companies that use an automated prioritization solution increase salespeople’s talk time by 88% and better their conversion rates by 97%.

If that isn’t enough incentive (and you’re still glancing at Facebook while reading this), then the negative effects on your mental well-being might be enough motivation.


Multitasking is Bad For Your Brain


A joint study by Citrix and the Center for Brain Health at the University of Dallas presented these dire conclusions:

Multitasking is like asbestos to the brain. Our brain is not wired to do more than one task at a time. When you believe you are multitasking, your brain is actually switching quickly from one task to another. Multitasking causes brain fatigue and reduces productivity and accuracy. It also causes a build-up of the stress hormone cortisol.

The research contends that long-term increases in cortisol could potentially lead to worsened memory, increased brain cell death, decreased neuronal activity, weakened immune system, and other negative effects on an individual.

Still getting the urge to check your smartphone for your latest text message?

If you do, the study also states:

The need to respond instantly to every email, phone call, text or social media post as quickly as possible is rewiring our brain to be addicted to distraction. We literally crave the next ping, making it virtually impossible to go for any stretch without checking our technology. In this ADHD-like state, we struggle to focus for long periods of time and think deeply about one thought, idea or task.

In addition, multitasking results in constant brain fatigue, where the mind switches to a rote system of constant memorization instead of the productive mode of problem-solving.

This is not looking good for either our wallets or sanity, is it?


Is There Any Hope Against Multitasking?


The above study does offer solutions to getting away from multitasking:

Research shows that higher-performing minds are not more efficient at knowing what to pay attention to, but rather, what to block out.

As with the HubSpot piece, a further solution is prioritization. Simply put: focus on two tasks only when arriving at work, and perform nothing else until those are completed (beyond the normal interruptions of the day).

It should be noted that our brains have become like overworked athletes with no chance of resting the muscles. The mere and conscious effort of less multitasking can go a long way in restoring our minds to maximum capability.

Of course, exercise, social breaks throughout the day, and a good diet may go a long way in not falling down the multitasking labyrinth, as these focus the brain. Other helpful actions are turning off email notifications, phone ringers, and background videos/sound streams on the computer.

This is easier said than done, obviously, but in the end both your job and your brain will thank you. For the record, while writing this article I did check my email, phone, and some other websites for unrelated information.

In other words, I have a lot of work to do too, but at least the right data is here to assist me in my continued exploration for the right data for my job and personal life.

Let us focus separately on less multitasking, so we can focus together on a better society.

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