Why you should work on Multitasking / by David Myers

Multitasking: everybody does it, some people claim to be good at it others claim to be bad at it; the truth behind it is that the simple act of multitasking negatively affects performance on each task being performed at the same time.[1] Studies have shown that tasks performed simultaneously result in both tasks being performed worse than they would have come out if they had been performed individually.[2] For me at least, the biggest problem I have is transitioning between (what seems like) 50+ things I’m supposed to get done.

It’s happened to all of us, you’re working on a project when suddenly an email reminds you of something and starts off a string of actions that distract you from your work. Maybe someone important texts you which makes you send an email which reminds you to make an appointment, or maybe you’re just perusing social media... the list goes on and on.  Then when you finally realize that you really need to be working it takes a good 20 minutes to get back in the zone and finish that project. It’s the kind of thing that everyone does but doesn’t necessarily realize how much time they’re actually wasting. Besides wasting time the studies earlier showed that if each item was done independently they likely would have been done better than the frantic switching between tasks that we experience all too often.

A quick google search will find you tons of articles like “Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work” or “Multitasking Wastes Time and Money” and many of them talk about the fact that switching between tasks is something our brains have a hard time with. The evidence is out there that multitasking is not beneficial for us, but we all still do it, hurting our performance on all the tasks we’re working on. So whats the solution here? We could either cut out multitasking altogether, or we could accept that its going to happen and work on getting better at it. My vote is for the latter, but then how do we do that?

Brain training games like Lumosity are excellent for working on executive memory. Executive memory is associated with the ability to switch between tasks and is closely related to working memory. Exercise may also help as it promotes a chemical called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) which helps to stimulate new connections in the brain [3]. And of course, I would be amiss if I didn’t also mention that tDCS can help. tDCS allows for increased focus, so the problem of having your mind wandering while trying to finish that project would not be as much of an issue; however, the focusing aspect of tDCS has been discussed in previous posts. Another major benefit that it offers is increased ability to switch between tasks.[4] So not only are you more able to focus on the project, when you finish it or need to work on something else you won’t have that 10 minutes of downtime where you’re gearing up to start the next task. With tDCS stimulating the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, specifically the cognitive benefits of increased focus and ability to switch between tasks, multitasking (despite being detrimental) can be done in a way that maximizes performance while multitasking.[5] If you’re going to keep multitasking, which let’s face it, in the age that we live in it is extremely rare to just focus on one task at a time, you might as well do it in the way that’s as effective as possible.

 

Sources:

1.      http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/parenting/back-to-school/laptops-in-class-lowers-students-grades-canadian-study/article13759430/

2.      http://www.cell.com/trends/cognitive-sciences/abstract/S1364-6613%2805%2900117-8?cc=y

3.      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12424260

4.      http://www.brainstimjrnl.com/article/S1935-861X%2812%2900198-2/abstract

5.      http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010945213002177