Can People Multitask? The Answer is No
You may think you can, but you can’t
I swear I can do it all! Last week, I was driving, eating, and on the phone all at the same time. I’m just kidding.
All jokes aside, is multitasking a life hack to get more done, or does it do more harm than good?
Earl Miller is a neuroscientist who studies the brain every day. He says that people can’t focus on two different tasks at the same time. We instead switch from task to task in an instant.
The everyday example he uses is talking on the phone while at the same time writing an email. This doesn’t work for most people. I can vouch for this.
This video shows how our lack of ability to multitask. If you haven’t seen it before, I recommend you check it out.
What controls our ability to multitask?
The prefrontal cortex is responsible when it comes to multitasking. In fact, research has shown that this area of the brain splits in two. The anterior portion takes one task, while the posterior part takes the other.
In doing so, they are able to dive and conquer. However, the effectiveness of this tactic leaves much to be desired. Once a third task is thrown in, the brain discards it.
It overloads and needs to drop one of the three tasks from its focus. Usually, this is the task that was introduced last.
Can anyone truly multitask?
While some research has shown the two task theory to be accurate, not everyone is convinced. Neuroscientist Scott Huettel argues that the brain can handle three or more tasks at once.
He says that it all depends on the task. For example, walking, talking, and eating can all be done at once without much of an issue. Why is this?
Huettel states that it’s because these tasks don’t overlap with the part of the brain that controls what we see. If the brain is only using one area, then people can do more than one thing with ease.
It’s when we try to mix different areas of the brain that the problems start. In this sense, people can multitask based on the activities that are involved. Texting and driving? That’s still a no-go for all.
One study concluded that only 2.5% of the population can multitask efficiently. Chances are, you’re not one of them.
Are there negative effects to multitasking?
Some of the effects are obvious. The number one negative is that it hinders performance.
It takes your focus away from your task. When this happens, your thoughts become scrambled.
It can slow you down. You’ll make more mistakes.
These are all things you most likely already knew. But did you know that chronic multitaskers struggle to focus on a singular task?
Clifford Nass, a researcher at Stanford University, concluded that multitasking can be damaging long term. He found that consistently giving the brain more than what it can handle can cause permanent changes in the brain.
This leads to the brain being unproductive and losing the ability to focus. This was true even when trying to focus on one thing.
Why it matters
Unless you are in the 2.5% who can multitask, you shouldn’t do it. By focusing on one task at a time, you will perform better. You will also do more in less time since all your attention will be on one goal.
Use your focus to get the things done that matter. While life is busy and sometimes we can’t afford this luxury, it should be strived for.
Focus on one thing at a time, and you will do better.