Multitasking: Friend or Foe?

Photo Courtesy of
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I used to take pride in my ability to multitask. While reading for class, I would watch the next episode of How I Met Your Mother and I would convince myself that I absorbed what I read and what I was watching. I was lying to myself, similar, I am sure, to many others who multitask. 

For those living in a fast paced city with many tasks that have  to be done but with even more  places and experiences  to be explored and felt, multitasking has become a method used by many who believe it will enable them to accomplish as much as possible in the least amount of time.However, not many of us understand how our brains function when we multitask and that multitasking, in actuality, has a negative effect of wasting our time and efforts.

In our brain, the executive control network located in the frontal lobes is responsible for our attention demands. When multitasking, many believe that they are focusing on two tasks at the same time when they are just switching between the two very quickly. An idea of why there is a rapid switch between the two tasks is the possibility that it, both, requires the same part of the brain. Have you ever found yourself reading the same sentence over and over while sitting with friends because you are attempting to stay in the conversation while understanding what you are reading? The fact that you have to constantly read the same sentence again is proof that you are switching between talking and listening to your friend and reading and understanding for class. You simply cannot simultaneously read and talk and understand what you’re reading and stay active in the conversation. If you look at this situation, you would notice that the time you spent talking with your friend leads to wasted effort trying to concentrate on your work. The consequence of wasted time and inability to concentrate? Your grades might suffer.

There is a study that I believe displays how multitasking leads to distractions which will affect your comprehension and, in turn, affect your performance. This study was mentioned in a New York Times article. In this research, 136 participants were asked to read a passage and answer questions. The group that was interrupted with instant messages containing further instructions proved to score 20% lower than that of the control group (uninterrupted group). “That’s enough to turn a B-minus (80%) student into a failure (62%).”

The best solution to prevent you from multitasking and enabling you to accomplish all on your to-do list is time management, a skill I have yet to master but am learning to.

Prioritize what needs to be done and when it needs to be done by. Schedule your days beforehand and split your work up into intervals of 1-2 hours each. Give yourself breaks in between studying. The break time is for you to reconnect with the world for a bit and relax your brain. Once your break is over, get back to work. The next challenge is to make sure you follow your schedule.

For further reading and tips:

How Multitasking Hurts Your Brain and Your Effectiveness At Work



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