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Multi-tasking basically makes you stupid

Are you a multi-tasker? Most of us are. Do you wear the “I am a multi-tasker!” badge loud and proud? We text while walking, send emails during meetings, talk on the phone while performing other tasks.
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Multi-tasking might make it seem like we're getting a lot done, but the science tells us something completely different. Photo supplied
Are you a multi-tasker? Most of us are. Do you wear the “I am a multi-tasker!” badge loud and proud?

We text while walking, send emails during meetings, talk on the phone while performing other tasks. With our busy lives, doing just one thing at a time seems to be a time waster.

However, think of all the times you were working on a project only to be distracted by a phone call or a colleague interrupting you or having several tasks on the go at work at the same time. It’s quite possible your original project was riddled with errors or took you twice the amount of time to complete.

According to Dr. Gary Small, professor of psychiatry and aging at the UCLA School of Medicine, multitasking may be increasing mental stress. Dr. Small says that a mental process related to multitasking called Partial Continuous Attention (PCA) is difficult to resist as "our dopamine circuits that are involved in reward systems drive it, because we want that exciting new bit of information."

Dr. Paul Hammerness and Margaret Moore, authors of “Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life,” a new book from Harvard Health Publications put it this way.

“Multitasking increases the chances of making mistakes and missing important information and cues,” they write. “Multitaskers are also less likely to retain information in working memory, which can hinder problem solving and creativity.”

The act of office workers handling interruptions — a phone call, an incoming email or a visitor to his or her cubicle — was observed by Gloria Mark and colleagues at the University of California at Irvine. It was reported “the average worker needed a staggering 25 minutes to return to their original task after the interruption was over.”

Your short-term memory is also affected. Anytime you are trying to multi-task “you have less attention available to store memories," says David Meyer, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. “A person who tries to read email while talking on the phone will have a hard time retaining any of the information. And if the phone rings while a person's in the middle of a thought, it will take a while to find that thought again — assuming it can be recovered at all.”

So, what should you do to protect your brain and reduce stress?

TimeManagementNinja.com suggests the following:
1. Do one thing at a time;
2. Be present;
3. Finish one task before your start another;
4. Don’t let the small tasks interrupt the larger ones;
5. Put down the technology;
6. Clean your workspace;
7. Make an appointment with your work; and
8. Eliminate distractions.

So, put down your multi-tasking badge and acknowledge how ineffective you are when trying to complete multiple tasks at one time.

Consider how successful you will be when you are able to manage your time and your brain effectively and how quickly you will start to enjoy a regular sense of accomplishment.

Lisa Lounsbury is president and founder of New Day Wellness.



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