Don’t Multitask

Most of us do it : driving to work while calling client to change the venue of appointment from Gloria Jean’s Coffees to Starbucks and listening to traffic update on radio concomitantly, playing Warcraft III while being on Skype video call with girlfriend and drinking coffee at the same time or watching Korean drama while texting husband to remind him to buy diaper bag and ironing clothes simultaneously.

We multitask because it seems to save time, appears to be productive and because with the invention of this small, thin, sleek gadget called smartphone, the temptation to multitask is overwhelming. However, science tells us that multitasking is not possible for human brain (yes, you are not as smart as you think you are).

When we are required to focus, we activate an area in our brain called prefrontal cortex, a part of our brain that dominates the left and right of the front part of our brain which is responsible for planning, decision making and regulating social behaviour; and it serves as the motivator to enable us to perform the task at hand.

When we are concentrating on one task, both left and right sides of prefrontal cortex work together but when we attempt to multitask, both sides split and work independently, as discovered by scientists at Institut National de la Sante et de la Recherche Medicale (INSERM) in Paris.

These scientists also discovered that due to the fact that we only have two frontal lobes, when we are required to perform more than two tasks at one time, we either forget one of the three tasks and make three times more mistakes than we would when we are performing two tasks.

To further deter you from multitasking, research conducted at Stanford University showed that multitasking may damage our brain. Multitasker lack the ability to focus, to remember things, to organize thoughts, to filter out immaterial information and they take longer time to switch from one task to another.

Furthermore, a study conducted by University of London showed that multitasking lowers our IQ by 15 points. That would mean that the average IQ of a multitasker is similar to that of an 8-year-old child.

To make things worse, researchers at University of Sussex found that multitasker had less brain density in anterior cingulate cortex, the part of your brain that governs empathy and emotion, and this brain damage is proven to be permanent instead of temporary.

If you still think that multitasking is the only way to survive in this era of information overload, please think of Formula One driver Derek Bell, who had raced from 1968 to 1996 for Ferrari and McLaren as well as two-time World Sportscar Championship and five-time LeMans winner, who thinks of nothing but the track when he drives, for 100% concentration is required to keep him alive when he had to drive in rainy weather.

And if companies like Apple, Google, General Mills and Deutsche Bank are incorporating training programs on mindfulness (a fancier term for focusing on the task at hand) to improve focus and efficiency, that should be convincing enough for us to stop multitasking.

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