So you think multitasking makes you more efficient at home and at work? Not so much...

iStock_000073754087_Large.jpgMy husband was the one who pointed it out the other morning ... I was on the verge of becoming “that guy.” You know, the guy who keeps glancing at his smartphone or emails during the team meeting, and later doesn’t follow through, provide support, or remember the group decision and next steps because he wasn’t really mentally engaged?

Or that friend you meet for lunch who has his smart phone on the table and alternates between instant messaging the kids, posting pictures of your meal to Facebook and looking at the restaurant reviews on Yelp while you are “chatting?"

Or the person driving ahead of you who is swerving, changing speeds and running red lights while talking (or, **GASP** texting) on her cell phone?

Oh sure, my multitasking seemed innocent enough. I was simply checking my cell phone for work
emails and responding WHILE reading the morning paper, WHILE watching the 6:00 am news, WHILE
eating breakfast, WHILE my husband was asking about the day’s plans.

I would nod at my husband at the right times and mumble incomplete sentences of agreement, but I really wasn’t paying attention to him and he knew it. And I found myself re-reading the same interesting news article, but couldn’t really remember exactly what the weather forecast was for the week. My email replies had typos and sometimes missed the real point entirely, and I couldn’t really remember how breakfast tasted. But surely that was not because of multitasking! ... Or was I just not very good at multitasking?

Social etiquette aside, study after study (a great one here) show that what I was doing dumbed me down, degraded my overall performance, impacted my short term memory, and did not fast track any of those projects (thankfully, studies didn’t comment on how rude I was being)! And here is the crazy part: studies also show that people who think they are GOOD at multitasking are actually the worst, and people who think they are bad at it simply realize how poorly they are performing compared to when they complete projects and action items sequentially.

In other words, no one is good at multitasking. The human brain simply cannot efficiently use the multiple regions required in most multitasking scenarios simultaneously, and so we end up performing at very low levels for each task we are working on. 

An abundance of studies clearly show that multitasking is as bad or worse than staying up all night, smoking marijuana, or doing a combination of both. In fact, multitasking lowered the IQ of adult males by 15% - to the average score of an 8-year old (who presumably wasn’t multitasking). So give yourself a break ... focus on one task at a time if you want to do it well, and don’t let your “over-achieving” friends influence you to go over to the dark side. 

Kate Walsh

Written by Kate Walsh

Kate is Pulsara's fearless Client Services Director. When she's not with our brilliant clients, Kate can be found training horses or enjoying an array of snow sports ... just no shoveling, please!