I remember my first Blackberry phone so well. The consulting firm that I worked for gave them to all the consultants with one goal in mind – multitasking. In the late ’90s and early 2000s, we saw a rise in the use of “productivity devices,” and we welcomed the idea of multitasking as the answer to keep up with technology and the lightning speed of business. We bragged about our ability to juggle multiple tasks on resumes, we used these stories as badges of honor in interviews, and we were even evaluated on our abilities to “balance it all” in our yearly performance reviews. Multitaskers were seen as productive, hard working employees that were actively sought after.

Now, 20 years later, we have discovered an ugly truth: multitasking not only impairs our work, it leads to depression, anxiety, and burnout. It slows us down, leads us to make more mistakes, and it makes us miserable to be around. Multitasking makes us mad!

The Challenge:

Even though we now know that multitasking hurts us more than helps us, we can’t stop. Why? Well, to be frank, we are addicted to it. Just like we are addicted to sugar or caffeine – one hit of either (or both for a double whammy!) – and we just want more. Humans crave “hits on the brain” and multitasking satisfies that. This is why we check our email 70 times a day or why we are constantly checking to see who “likes” our posts on social media. We are addicted yet we can’t keep up with that lifestyle for long. The song “Nothing Lasts Forever” by Luke Combs comes to mind.

Psychological Principle:

A study done in Paris, found that when individuals are focused on one task, their prefrontal cortex is immediately activated. Both left and right sides of the prefrontal cortex work in perfect harmony. However, when they engage in two tasks simultaneously, their prefrontal cortex “splits” into half and both sides are forced to work independently. Individuals tend to make three times more mistakes and forget the details of the task when multitasking (2010).

A study by the University of London found that participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks experienced an IQ score decline similar to those who stayed up all night. Some of the subjects had their IQ drop 15 points, leaving them with the average IQ of an 8-year-old child (2015).

Mindset Shift:

A secret productivity hack you will love – the Zeigarncik Effect. This psychological phenomenon describes the tendency to remember interrupted or incomplete tasks or events more easily than tasks that have been completed. In other words, these interrupted or incomplete tasks stay in your brain taking us space. Once these tasks are completed, they free up brain space!

Performance Shift:

Write down the things that you want to accomplish every day. Our brains love to check off things off a list. Remember the Zeigarnick Effectfinishing a task frees up space in your brain!

Having so many unfinished tasks in our brains creates cognitive tension that is frankly, driving us crazy. So, go check off some of your items on your to-do list and let go of all that stress!

If you want to learn more about how to get out of the motions of multitasking and explore better ways to be productive, reach out to Chris!

Co-authored by: Betsy Moore, Industrial/Organizational Psychology Consultant & Health Coach





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