One Thing At A time: Why Multi-Tasking is BAD For You

Overstuffed to-do lists, killing two birds with one stone, no matter how you describe it, multi-tasking, for many, is the motherhood badge of honor.

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But does multi-tasking affect your health? It may seem like it is increasing productivity and saving you time and energy, but while many women are proud of their multi-tasking abilities, ongoing research has confirmed that multi-tasking can have negative effects on levels of productivity and overall brain health in some cases.

Experts agree that multi-tasking is safer if the tasks involved do not use the same stimuli, such as reading a message from the laptop while listening to music. Our brain is not designed to deal with the same stimulus challenge at the exact same time.

That is why driving a vehicle and texting on a phone at the same time is considered extremely dangerous. You are using the same visual stimulus. They are both competing for the same limited focus. Although it appears you are multi-tasking, technically, you can only be actively engaged with one or the other.

So instead of doing two things at once, you are actually rapidly switching from one to the other, and back again. If your attention is attracted to the phone for a second too long, the job of consciously controlling the vehicle ceases, and catastrophe can follow.

Another example is when you are attempting to listen to multiple conversations around you. It is impossible to listen to two people who are talking to you simultaneously, because your auditory stimulus becomes overwhelmed.

Aside from just being less productive, multitasking may be part of why moms are so tired all the time! The switching back and forth actually uses more energy, then as your mental energy dwindles, you become more absent-minded, making it harder for you to be efficient at either task.

When I am trying to find a location I’ve never been to, whether I have the GPS going or if I’m following directions I’ve been given, I naturally turn down the radio so I can focus. It’s almost like my brain can’t process both the music and the directions, does that ever happen to you?

Each time you multi-task, your mind becomes a juggling act.  When you multitask, you are diluting your mind’s investment towards each task.

A study headed by Zheng Wang of Ohio State University showed that people who were text messaging while being asked to focus on the images displayed on a computer monitor had decreased levels of performance.

What makes this finding even more troubling is that those subjects who were asked to multi-task using the same visual stimulus, believed they performed better, although the results showed the opposite.

Their ability to focus on images displayed on their computer monitor plummeted up to 50% even though they thought they were performing perfectly. The same study participants were asked to multi-task using different stimuli, such as visual and auditory, and were found to have reduced levels of performance as much as 30%.

Professor Wang stated that performance level perception when multi-tasking is not the same, as the results proved. Researchers have also found that media multi-tasking increases your risks of developing impaired cognitive control.

Unfortunately, in addition to productivity losses, there is a compounding, taxing burden placed on the mental and emotional faculties. This results in accumulated stress, which is already a very real problem for many, if not most, to some degree.

So what can you do to get more done and not multitask? Well it starts simply with decreasing distractions and being focused on each task individually.  Believe it or not, there may even be a few tools that you can use to make the most of your time.

Here are 3 productivity tools to help you limit distractions and stay focused.

Rescue Time

RescueTime helps you track your time on your computer and your mobile devices and identifies where you where you're spending (ahem…often wasting) a lot of your time. We generally underestimate how much time we’re really spending when it comes to our devices.  RescueTime will;

·        Alert you when you're spending a certain amount of time on an activity

·        Allow you to block distracting websites during focus time

·        Keep track of what you accomplished throughout the day

·        Identify how much time you spend on a variety of activities, including email, meetings, etc.

Best of all, you can sign up for a Lite account, which is completely free or their premium service for added features.

Focus Booster Pomodoro App

The Focus Booster app is based on the Pomodoro Technique, which is a long-standing productivity technique that uses a timer for focused work periods, usually 25 minutes, followed by a break of 3-5 minutes. After you complete 4 work periods, you get a break of 15-30 minutes. The idea is you stay completely focused on one task during the work period.

There are a lot of apps that can help you execute the Pomodoro Technique, but you can check out Focus Booster. The app is free for up to 20 sessions per month or you can pay a reasonable yearly fee for unlimited sessions and extra features.

Focus @ Will

Now here's something very different, but scientifically proven to increase focus and productivity. And if you love music, this is going to be great news for you.

Focus@Will uses human neuroscience and music to help you focus, limit distractions, get productive and retain more information. All you do is answer a few questions and the software will determine the right music to put your brain in a flow state that makes you super productive.

Try focusing your attention on one task at a time and give these tools a try.  And hey, if you've got a productivity tool you love, can you post it in the comments below? We'd love to gather up your answers and make part 2 for this article!