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Why So Much Multitasking? by Natalia Van Reenen

This post is based on the following article found on the APA.org news page:

http://www.shape.com/blogs/shape-your-life/why-its-so-hard-stop-multitasking

According to a recent study cited by the American Psychological Association, people experience an incredible 40 percent drop in productivity when they multitask. There is actually no such thing as multitasking; our brains can only process one thing at a time. When people “multitask” they are merely switching back and forth between two tasks, which causes unnecessary strain. Then why do people multitask? The stimulation caused by opening an email or writing a text message signals the brain to secrete dopamine. Although the surge of dopamine makes one feel good, it is only temporary. Multitasking can make a person tire more quickly and hinder happiness in the long run. There are many ways to stop the habit. One way you can limit your tendency to multitask is by using a timer. Set it to go off every 30 minutes to one hour when you are in the process of completing tasks. Each time the timer goes off, ask yourself if you are doing the task you should be doing. You can train yourself over time to focus more on what needs to be done and less on other tasks.

I was shocked to read just how much productivity is lowered when multitasking. In today’s fast-paced society, people are always finding ways to save time. Interestingly, we may save time by refraining from doing the very thing we once thought would save us time in the first place. I urge you to think twice about multitasking the next time you have a long to-do list and see if the strategy works for you. It’s worth a try!

4 comments to Why So Much Multitasking? by Natalia Van Reenen

  • Michael Parker

    @sgerard–I couldn’t be in more accordance with your comment concerning dopamine levels. What you argue makes perfect sense. And I think everyone can agree (to some level) that he or she felt “blah” after a non-productive day. Your example is analogous to that of an addict (to any drug). After hours/days/weeks of multi-tasking, it makes intuitive sense that the body would experience withdraw-like symptoms for the decreased levels of dopamine. As ecstasy studies have shown, individuals feel “depressive-like” symptoms after “coming down” from an ecstasy high due to decreased levels of dopamine. And if, in fact, there exists a valid link between dopamine secretion and task-completion, then I guess I just need to do less to preserve homeostatic regulation of my dopamine hahahahaha!

  • saristy

    I don’t normally multitask, not when it comes to important matters. My way of thinking, I get something completely done and out of the way first and then move onto the next thing. To me, I always thought it saved time because I didn’t have to go back and do more of what I didn’t finish, but could instead get it all out of the way.

  • ambermullins

    I’m not sure I totally agree with the idea that multitasking makes you less productive. At my job, as a waitress, that’s all I do is multitask and am very efficient at it. Certain jobs and task require the ability to multitask. Maybe they are focusing on tasks like texting and school work instead of making a phone call. Even when I clean my house I jump all around and clean everywhere not room by room and I get done very quickly. I would like to no more about the task for the study.
    I do agree with the researchers that people that multitask more have less self control. It might have something to do with the quick rushes of dopamine and the quick fix of happiness they are looking for rather than thinking about the long term consequences.

  • sgerard

    AHHHHH!!!! I scream outloud because I am finally set free from my madness of multitasking!! It is very intersting to consider and contemplate the ideology that we could be more productive by doing less. Long term, increased levels of dopamine from habitual multitaking should hypothetically, not sure empirically, warrant some biological effects and atlerations in said dopomine levels. It would be interting to study habitual multitaskers progression to single taskers and monitor their overall well being and happiness. Are they happier when not multitasking? If dopomine increases happiness, then decraseing dopomine levels could bring on “depressive type symptoms”. Have you ever had a very non-productive day and at the end of that day you just feel blah?? Could be your dopomine level withdrawl from giving your brain a rest. Great article!!

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