The Hidden Risks of Multitasking

The Hidden Risks of Multitasking

Multitasking is way overrated. We have the illusion of getting more stuff done, but the quality of our work usually suffers and we rarely do anything to completion.

When I try to juggle several tasks at once – like answering texts, email and phone calls while working on a writing assignment – my attention is pulled in so many different directions that I rarely get past the first sentence of my story. The constant interruptions drain my energy and leave me feeling frustrated.

Multitasking Damages the Brain

Research shows that instead of making us more productive and healthy, multitasking can create anxiety and negatively impact the structure of our brain.

In a University of Sussex study, MRI scans showed that participants who used multiple digital devices at once had less density in the area of the brain responsible for empathy and emotional control than those who rarely multitasked. Juggling several tasks at once also increases the production of the stress hormone cortisol. When our brain is constantly shifting gears, we often get stressed out and overwhelmed, leaving us depleted physically and mentally.

A separate study from the University of London showed that multitasking can significantly lower your IQ similar to what you would experience if you had smoked marijuana or pulled an all-nighter.

Digital Distractions Dilute the Present

When we scatter our energy and focus, we often end up with hazy, unsatisfying and sometimes dangerous results. Numerous studies show that driving while using a cellphone is as dangerous as driving drunk, yet many of us continue to do it. When we eat or cook while chatting on the phone and watching TV, we often end up overeating – or overcooking our food.

When used judiciously, technology can make us more productive and efficient, but when we fail to power down, we sometimes end up with more work and less quality time for the people and things we care about. We end up answering our clients’ email messages long after our work day ends, and we interrupt conversations with the people standing right in front of us the moment we feel our phone buzzing in our pocket.

Relationships require our full attention to thrive and grow. If we ignore our kids or romantic partners long enough, they will look elsewhere for connection and a feeling of love and belonging.

Productivity Goes Up When We Power Down

Researchers estimate that switching between two or more tasks can cause up to a 40 percent drop in productivity. For many of us, multitasking and rushing around have become a way of life, but change is possible if we start to become aware of where we squander our time and attention.

Taking regularly scheduled breaks from our electronic devices can give us a much needed break from all the distractions around us and make us more productive. Whenever I’m faced with a pressing writing deadline, I force myself to log out of email, power down my phone and close my office door to distance myself from the demanding, noisy world out there. It’s the only way I can find my flow – that place where my attention is so fully focused on the task at hand that I lose all track of time, and my creativity and energy flow effortlessly.

Yoga Builds Stronger Health and Focus

In yoga philosophy, concentration or one-pointed attention is called Dharana. We practice this in yoga class by focusing on the sound of our breath and directing our gaze toward a single point to prevent our eyes and mind from wandering. This helps us go inward and calm the busy mind.

Practicing yoga and meditation has the opposite effect of multitasking. It lowers our blood pressure, promotes relaxation and increases the production of the feel-good hormone serotonin. Studies show that regular meditation can actually increase the grey matter in our brain, making it more effective at processing information.

When we meditate or come to our mats to stretch and breathe deeply, we sharpen our concentration, which can transfer to all areas of our life. It teaches us to show up fully for the people and things in our lives that really matter.

Focus Improves Quality of Relationships and Work

When we learn to focus on one thing at a time, we can enjoy the simple pleasures of life – like eating until we’re comfortably full, spending uninterrupted time with loved ones, or soaking up the beauty of being outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine and savoring every moment.

This one-pointed focus allows us to devote more time and attention to the people and things that bring us joy and to reach our full potential in our work, relationships, sports and all that we do.