It turns out, multi-tasking is not good for us

Dividing our attention

What are we doing to ourselves?

It’s hard to believe any of us would actively participate in reducing our intelligence and ability or harming our relationships, but many of us are, unwittingly.

If we pride ourselves on the ability to multi-task, feeling we’re more efficient, we are wrong. Divided-mind, ignored intelligence, and technoference, are a few of the terms used to describe the effects of chronic multi-tasking. Then there’s internet addiction disorder, found in people who spend 40-hours weekly with technology. Our love-affair with it all comes at great cost.

One researcher cautioned we’re turning our brain’s grey-matter into mush because of living in a state of perpetual distraction. It sounds like a self-induced lobotomy to me. It’s time we pay attention to the very real effects of our technology habits.

Many of us pride ourselves on our ability to multitask, holding and juggling many balls in the air at the same time. It’s a badge of honour for many. Email made this problematic and our hand-held devices and smart watches, with instant messaging and pop-ups, have made it even worse.

While we may pride ourselves on our multi-tasking ability, researchers tell us, we’re probably not as good at it as we think we are, and we’re fooling ourselves. Whether it’s doing two things at once, quickly switching back-and-forth between a few jobs or doing many tasks in quick succession, the belief that multi-tasking saves time and makes us more efficient is a myth.

Our brains aren’t made to work that way and it might be hurting us more than helping. While modern computers are designed to have multiple browser windows open, our brains are not.

What we’ve come to believe as multi-tasking isn’t really that at all. What we’re doing is quickly switching between several tasks and in doing so, not only does our work suffer but so does our health and happiness.

Converging evidence finds multi-tasking:

• Increases depression and social anxiety

• Reduces our productivity. It takes longer to complete tasks by as much as 40%

• Reduces our cognitive ability, reducing our IQ by 10% to 15%

• Makes us more prone to errors

• Makes it harder to filter out distractions and irrelevant information

• Inhibits our ability to remember what we’ve done or learned

• Worsens our memory as we grow older

• Reduces creativity and problem-solving

• Creates inattention blindness; we don’t notice what’s happening in the moment

• Increases the stress response in our bodies

• Increases accidents walking and driving, leading to physical injury

• Reduces relationship satisfaction

It may feel like we’re getting more done but we’re not. We’re developing bad brain-habits. Studies reveal multitasking causes our IQ to fall to levels similar to a person who’s sleep deprived or has smoked marijuana. Yikes!

Multi-tasking is exhausting and it activates the stress response in our bodies, causing increases in the production of the stress hormone cortisol, which over time, has harmful implications for our health. It can easily lead to mistakes, causing us additional stress.

Quickly checking things off our to-do list feels good because we get a hit of dopamine for completing a task. But many of those quick things we complete aren’t helping us accomplish the big things requiring our full attention.

Researchers at Stanford University found heavy multi-taskers were less mentally organized, and these effects lingered even when they weren’t multi-tasking.

Relationships suffer from distracted attention, termed technoference by researchers. Partners of multi-taskers feel reduced relationship satisfaction when another’s device sits ready for the next beck-and-call of a pop-up or alert.

Multi-tasking during meals can cause us to over-eat. I recall a mindfulness student who was horrified at the thought of eating her meal without the distraction of technology. To her, it just wasn’t efficient to simply enjoy a meal. Using meal time as an opportunity to check our inbox or social media easily leads to over-eating and we miss out on the pleasure-benefits of noticing our food.

As the pace of life and demands increase, the modern tendency is to try and cram it all in simultaneously. It’s easy to get sucked into the vortex and feel spit-out at the end of the day.

Technology is wonderful, but the immediacy demands created by the way we live life keeps us on high alert. The constant notifications of emails and texts arriving are distractions.

It’s easy to get hooked on the feeling multi-tasking brings. It’s addictive and makes us want more. The hits of adrenaline and dopamine can become addictive, even though they’re not good for us in the long run. It can cost us our health and prevent us from using all of our intelligence and creativity.

Creating habits to assist ourselves in becoming more focused, truly productive and creative can be as simple as creating a schedule for checking emails, turning off text notifications, and avoiding the use of multiple devices at one time, such as watching TV and checking our phone. Mindfulness practices are helpful.

Making it a habit to pause, breathe and stretch between tasks allows our brains to make the switch. These simple practices support our health, our happiness, and our intelligence.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

An assistant minister at the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, she is a retired nurse with a master’s degree in health science and is a hospice volunteer.  She is also an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan and currently spends her time teaching smartUBC, a unique mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. 

She is a speaker and presenter and from her diverse experience and knowledge, both personally and professionally, she has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people gain a new perspective, awaken and recognize we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts, stress or to life. We are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 44 years and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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