The Myth of Multi-Tasking

Multi-tasking or the act of doing many things at once is a myth. What actually happens in the brain is that we develop the ability to go back and forth at a rapid rate between two or more tasks (toggling). But, is multi-tasking actually faster than completing one activity at a time? New research shows that we actually complete tasks faster if we work on one task at a time.

When we switch between tasks, we loose momentum and actually take longer because we need to re-engage our brain in the task in front of us. Multi-tasking is like driving a car by pushing down on the gas and then applying the brake, rather than consistently holding your foot on the gas. In the first example, you get to your destination using more fuel from the stop-start motion. Another disadvantage is that your emotional resiliency is affected as you surge your energy in this fashion. In the example of driving at consistent pace, you engage for maximum efficiency and keep a steady pace of energy through the process.

Does that mean we should never try to toggle? No. We should selectively toggle in low-cognitive or simple tasks where rapid switching between activities that are habitual, like grabbing what we need to get out the door in the morning.  Routine activities have the advantage of being hard wired into the brain and thus need less energy to complete. 

Ideal practice would have us slow down when we need to complete complex tasks or engage in deep thinking. So the next time you find yourself trying to do two or more things at once, ask is this task important enough to have my full attention?