Multitasking is a natural part of being human. This is because our evolutionary history required human beings to do two things at one time.
If our ancestors weren’t able to scavenge for food while also looking out for predators, they wouldn’t have lived long.
Because of this, we now experience the pull to want to do two things at once, but just because we’re wired to want to do two things at once, does that mean we should?
Clifford Nass, a professor at Stanford University, did a research study with 262 students with the assumption that frequent multitasking students would perform better than students who didn’t multitask at all.
The assumption made by Nass was wrong.
“It turns out that high multitaskers are suckers for irrelevancy. They were outperformed on every measure. Although they’d convinced themselves and the world that they were great at it, there was just one problem. Multitaskers were just lousy at everything.”*9
The idea of multitasking is one of the greatest lies that people believe in because nearly everyone thinks that multitasking is an effective thing to do.
But even though multitasking isn’t at all effective by any measure, why do so many people still try to reason to themselves that it is?
Well research shows that frequent multitaskers actually experience a burst of dopamine when they switch back and forth from task to task.
These bursts of dopamine can be very addictive for multitaskers. Without it, frequent multitaskers will feel bored.
It seems then that multitaskers do multiple things at a time, not because they’re skillful at multitasking, but because they get bored when they try to sit down and focus on something for a duration of time.
Then they reason to themselves that they’re great at multitasking, when in fact, they’re just really bad at focusing.
Understand that people can definitely do two things at once like walk and talk, or chew gum and read, but what humans can’t do is focus on two things successfully at a time.
Walking and talking is fine because one action is automatic, but when two actions take focus in order to do like driving and texting or working and checking Facebook, that’s when your focus starts to suffer.
When people give their attention to two things, this is known as “divided attention,” meaning if you try to focus on two thing at once, your attention will get divided and your brain will lack the ability to perform both tasks successfully.
If you try to focus on three things however, then one of the three things you’re focusing on will get dropped from your focus completely.
In relation to work, the penalty of multitasking can be very expensive. Researchers estimate that we lose 28% of an average workday to multitasking.
In relation to love and friendships, the penalty of multitasking could be damaged relationships. When you’re out with friends or on a date, and you go back and forth from talking to them to texting on your phone, that’s when you start ruining relationships.
Remember that giving the work you care about and the people you love only pieces of your attention will have a greater cost on the quality of work you do and on the strength of the relationships you have than just the time that you think you save by multitasking.