When I began to write this column, I was simultaneously reading a blog, texting with my nephew and Googling information about multitasking. According to Douglas Merrill in the Forbes blog post, “Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work,” I wasn’t doing any of those things very well.
“When you’re trying to accomplish two dissimilar tasks, each one requiring some level of consideration and attention, multitasking falls apart,” writes Merrill. His explanation is that, “Your brain just can’t take in and process two simultaneous, separate streams of information and encode them fully into short-term memory.”
For those of us who didn’t grow up with a cellphone connected to our hand or a laptop in our school backpack, I assumed that we could learn this valuable technique of doing several things at one time efficiently. For instance, Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers sure took to using social media, especially Facebook, without any lessons.
Although social media can be a lot like a family gathering gone terribly wrong when a meltdown in communication occurs, like many people, I enjoy the ability to connect and share information on Facebook.
Teens don’t seem to be that impressed by Facebook and are never signing up or leaving the site “at an estimated rate of up to a million a year.” This according to a 2015 article in the Washington Post by Nico Lang, “…for new [social media] friends like Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.” Lang says that Facebook boasts more than one billion users, but that it is “highly popular” among Gen-Xers, those born from the early 1960s to 1980s, and Baby Boomers (1946-1964). So, we can’t blame adolescents for all the drama that Facebook can elicit.
The site’s purpose can also seem rather ambiguous, since the lines of personal and professional communication sometimes intersect. Facebook users occasionally misinterpret a comment’s intent or express their opinion without reading a post in its entirety. Add to this the passion of this highly-charged political season and you have all the ingredients for miscommunication.
Hopefully, people aren’t spending time on Facebook at work, but there are other legitimate professional networking sites like LinkedIn, along with the endless emails, texts and phone calls that everyone must attend to.
Still, multitasking might be a potential professional landmine according to an article by Dr. Travis Bradberry in Forbes, “Multitasking Damages Your Brain and Career, New Studies Suggest.” Bradberry wrote, “Research conducted at Stanford University found that multitasking is less productive … people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information cannot pay attention, recall information, or switch from one job to another as well as those who complete one task at a time.”
This research debunks the myth that some people excel at multitasking. “The frequent multitaskers performed worse because they had more trouble organizing their thoughts and filtering out irrelevant information, and they were slower at switching from one task to another,” noted Bradberry. Another study conducted at the University of London cited in the Forbes feature says that “multitasking lowers your IQ” as well.
New York Times best-selling author Lysa Terkeurst agrees. In her 2014 book, “The Best Yes,” Terkeurst writes, “Checking your email in the middle of creative work momentarily knocks your IQ down 10 points according to the British Institute of Psychiatry.” I doubt if checking Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, etc. is going to be much different.
Multitasking also requires constant decision-making about how to answer a text, email, or even the content of a Facebook post. A 2015 article at www.theguardian.com by Daniel Levitin reports, “…decision-making is also very hard on your neural resources and that little decisions appear to take up as much energy as big ones.” In this depleted state, Levitin warns that a person could end up making a wrong decision about something important after using all his energy on seemingly meaningless choices.
For example,expressing an online viewpoint, because some individuals appear to lack impulse control which can be another direct result of multitasking. These fast-fingered folks don’t contemplate how their careless words posted forever on the Internet could possibly affect the lives of others, or even their own reputations. People have lost jobs and negatively impacted others by a thoughtless post.
In the end, multitasking can also result in increased stress and neural addiction. When I began writing this column, I was rather proud that I was becoming proficient at multitasking. But now, I think I’ll go back to doing things the old way, one task at a time.
The writer is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.