680 words (3 mins to read)
Does multi tasking affect your health? It may seem like it’s increasing productivity and saving you time and energy, and many women can appear proud of their multi tasking abilities even though they appear no better at it than men—and both sexes are bad at it.
However, multi-tasking in this sense isn’t really “a thing” as what we’re taking to be ‘multi tasking’ is actually rapidly switching attention (try reading a sentence and performing a math task in your head at the same time to experience the difficulty of true multi-tasking).
Further, research has been confirming for years that trying to ‘multi task’, or, more accurately, continually switch attention from one task to another, can have negative effects on levels of productivity (and overall brain health in some cases).
Multi tasking is safer if the tasks involved do not use the same stimuli, such as reading a message from the laptop while listening to music as our brain is not designed to deal with the same stimulus challenge at the exact same time.
That is why driving a vehicle and texting on a phone at the same time is considered extremely dangerous. You are using the same stimulus. The visual one. And both are competing for the same limited focus.
Although it appears you are multi tasking, you can only be actively engaged with one or the other.
So instead of doing two things at once, you are actually rapidly switching from one to the other, and back again, which has a cost on the executive control of the brain and, thus, lowers cognition.
If you find yourself multi tasking, each task that your mind is engaged in will drain a part of your mental energy. And as your mental energy drains, you become more absent-minded.
Alas, your mind begins to drift.
Even if you could complete the two tasks successfully, you will quite probably not recall how you completed the tasks. This is because our brain does not have the ability to fully focus on two or several tasks at the same time.
Each time you multi-task your mind becomes a juggling act. And when you multi task you are diluting your mind’s investment towards each task.
A study headed by Zheng Wang of Ohio State University showed that people who were text messaging while being asked to focus on the images displayed on a computer monitor had decreased levels of performance.
What makes this finding even more troubling is that the subjects believed they performed better, although the results showed the opposite.
Their ability to focus on images displayed on their computer monitor decreased by up to 50% even though they thought they were performing perfectly.
The same study also asked the participants to multi task using different stimuli, such as visual and auditory, and were found to have reduced levels of performance as high as 30%.
Professor Wang stated that performance level perception when multi tasking is not the same, as the results proved.
The most current research is confirming that multi tasking means “performing multiple tasks sub-optimally”.
Unfortunately, in addition to productivity losses, there is a compounding, taxing burden placed on the mental and emotional faculties. This can result in accumulated stress, which is already a very real problem for many.
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Although technology today makes it difficult for us to avoid multi tasking as a matter of course, just make yourself more aware of when it’s happening, and try to remove the overload on your mind as much as possible.
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