Why Multitasking Isn’t Much Good To Your Brain

Why Multitasking Isn’t Much Good To Your Brain


It’s the gospel of productivity in a maxed-out world: Multi-tasking helps you get more done faster. Only thing is, it doesn’t.

When you perform multiple tasks, each require some of the same channels of processing, conflicts will arise between the tasks, and you’re going to have to pick and choose which task you’re going to devote a channel of processing to.

Related: The Art of Efficiency: How to Do One One Thing at a Time

How the brain really copes with multi-tasking

When looking at the brain’s speed, accuracy and memory in information processing, humans have distinct bandwidth challenges, which can make multi-tasking problematic.

It turns out the brain’s ability to process information is limited in a variety of ways – from processing channels to limits on data volume, velocity and working memory – that confound true, simultaneous task actions.

Counter to common belief, you can’t do two cognitively complicated tasks at once. End of story. When you’re on the phone and writing an email at the same time, you’re actually switching back and forth between them, since there’s only one mental and neural channel through which language flows, and if you’re trying to spread your attention in this way, it’s not going to work.

Why single tasking shouldn’t be heresy

In a time-urgent world with the attention span of a monkey on crack, focusing on one task is like swimming against the current. But here’s why you should stop doing it: It’s very often highly inefficient and can be dangerous to your health.

Even the most adept multi-tasker will crash and burn (quite literally) trying to resolve simultaneous conflicting demands.

That means you could wind up sending the wrong email; blow an account; have a ‘brownout,’ in which too much access to the cerebral grid shuts down critical thinking; or worse, find yourself in a truly hazardous situation, such as driving while using a cell phone.

The conflicts triggered by incessant multi-tasking can set off chronic stress and slow you down, shredding productivity. In fact, trying to complete two or more tasks at once can take 50% more time or longer, depending on the complexity of the tasks.

How to get focused

The good news is that there’s hope for the attention-span-challenged, in the form of self-regulation through better time management and scheduling. Try map out the usage of your time in a way that minimises your exposure to interruptions, as an example.

And while entrepreneurs are some of the most compulsive multi-taskers, you’d be wise to cool the scatterbrain jets and focus.

If you want to be a creative entrepreneur, you need to be setting aside large chunks of time where you just think. Einstein was not multi-tasking when he was dreaming up the special and general theories of relativity.

Related: ‘Reboot’ Your Brain and Refresh Your Focus in 15 Minutes or Less

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Joe Robinson
Joe Robinson is author of Don't Miss Your Life, on the hidden skills of activating life after work, and a work-life balance trainer and executive coach.