The word “multitasked” started being used in 60-th in the data processing branch. This word described the ability of the computer to process several tasks simultaneously. Later, this definition started to be used to describe humans as well: managers, directors, essay writers, designers etc.
In data processing, multitasking is not a parallel completion of several actions. In this mode, there is more than one task in the process. But one task is being processed, and the other one stands by in a queue. When central processor switches from one task to another, this is called switching of context, and the illusion of a parallel completion of tasks appears exactly because of frequent switches.
Multitasking is just an illusion. In reality, people just switch from one task to another again and again.
Our brain is simply unable to process more than two difficult tasks at a time. This is what scientists discovered.
When holding an experiment, they asked participants to complete two tasks simultaneously and watched their brain activity with functional tomography. They noticed human brain to “divide” into two parts: two frontal lobes were active at a time.
Then, scientists asked participants to process three tasks at a time. In this case, participants constantly forgot about one of three tasks and made mistakes more often. So, yes, people can switch between two tasks with no problems, but they fail when it comes to three and more tasks (just because human brain has only two frontal lobes).
The Price of Constant Switches
People switch from one task to another thanks to executive functions of their brain. They control thinking processes and determine how and in what sequence the tasks are performed.
Performance control passes two stages.
- Goal change: the decision to do another task;
- New role activation: moving from rules of one task to those of another one.
Switching tasks can take only short parts of seconds to happen, yet this time increases gradually, especially if to switch frequently. In fact, you work slower due to that.
Of course, sometimes it does not matter: for instance, when you clean the house and watch TV at a time. But in situations when safety matters (behind the wheel) even these moments can be critical.
Lacks of Being Multitasked
Multitasking Lowers Your Performance
As it was mentioned before, in multitask mode human just switches from one task to another. Due to this, a person works slower: they need to remind themselves all the information about the task they switch to every time. Plus, their brain gets tired much more than if it was concentrated on one task. Additionally, when switching from one task to another, humans make much more mistakes.
Multitasking Does Not Allow on Concentration
When being multitasked becomes one’s habit, they get difficult to concentrate on one thing. Human brain usually ignores some of incoming signals in order to lower the load and to devote all the energy to complete one task. But when it is used to being multitasked, it starts being confused and can’t always determine which information is important and which can be ignored.
Being Multitasked Kills Your Willpower
In multitask mode, your attention is distracted, critical thinking and decision-making processes are slowed down. Your brain gets tired faster, and this inflicts your willpower.
Snowball effect appears next: you can do nothing because of the lack of will, you feel sad, and negative emotions take away even more of your motivation.
How to Bring Concentration Back
1.Do the Most Important Things in the Morning
Create a next day to-do list in the evening, and do all the most important tasks in first few hours of your working day. If to finish urgent deeds in the morning, you won’t think about any important task for the whole day, and to worry about it.
2. Get Rid of Distractors
For instance, if you usually get distracted by a smartphone, switch it off until the task is finished. If you spend much time in social media or YouTube, block these websites.
People often think urgent tasks to be important ones. That is why they think they need to do everything faster and to do as much as possible.
When thinking strategically and planning in advance, you’ll understand what is important for you much better. And when knowing what is especially important at this or that moment, you can concentrate on the task and do much more than if to spray your attention onto some tasks at once.
Get distracted from the job or any other task during some time. For instance, use Pomodoro short-breaks technique for work breaks and have at least one day-off every week. In order to restore your energy and relax, try breathing exercises or meditation. And never forget about the main resting technique: sleep.
How to Lower the Need of Multitasking at Study or Work
1. Start from Preparation
If to start a new project without having the required information and precise plan, you can get stuck halfway. It often happens this way, especially when you start the next task not finishing the previous one.
2. Lower the Number of Open Projects
Do not start new tasks until you finish existing ones.
3. Develop Priority System
Every member of your student or working team has to know their exact role at this or that moment. Set priorities all the time and try determining your main task on a day or a week.
There is nothing scary in working in multitask mode when a critical need appears. But is it started spreading onto all fields of your life, ask yourself: “Is multitasking that useful here? What will happen if I take opposite approach and concentrate on one task instead?”
Try using tips above to get out of multitasking trap.