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Multitasking Can Be Hazardous to Your Brain!

June 03 2019

multitaskingMultitasking is a touchy subject. It's drawn so much fire when I've discussed the subject in the past. We all think we are experts at multitasking, when actually we are just fooling ourselves. Before we do a deep dive into the negative effects of multitasking, let's compare our brain to a few other things we can relate to and envision.

Imagine your brain is a half-inch garden hose that flows at about 24 gallons a minute. If you start a water battle with somebody, you can direct all the water at that person. Now here comes a second person entering the battle. You quickly try to aim the water equally at both people, which is 12 gallons per minute against each of them. You will lose the battle because your attention and effort has been diluted.

Multitasking is similar. We only have so much bandwidth. If we start dividing it up, the results are not going to be what we are attempting to accomplish.

Look at your life and at all the ways we are attempting to unsuccessfully multitask. You are having a conversation with someone, and your phone or your watch beeps. Its vibrations and alerts start distracting you. Sneaking a glance to see who or what is happening moves half your mental bandwidth away from the conversation to check the interruption. This is why we can't remember so many things that the other person says—we have divided our attention from our conversation to whatever our device has alerted us to.

How many times have you been on a call with somebody, and you can tell the other person is multitasking? If they are reading, emailing or texting while you are attempting to have discussion, there's a good chance they will not remember half the conversation.

I love this quote by molecular biologist John Medina, author of Brain Rules (2008). He notes that "individuals that multitask experience a 40% drop in productivity and they take 50% longer to accomplish a single task whilst making up to 50% more errors than workers who focus on a single task at a time."

Please know I fully own the fact I have the same problem with thought breaking as you do. It's midafternoon as I am writing this, and will share my interruptions from today: phone calls, text messages, Facebook alerts, Facebook Messenger, emails, LinkedIn alerts, Instagram alerts, Snapchat alerts, Twitter alerts, YouTube alerts, Amazon shipping alerts plus weather, news and sports alerts. Oh, let's not forget if we wear a device that tells us to move or stand. This is just on my mobile devices—I'm not even counting what's happening on my computer!

I have some ideas on how to help and will be detailing suggestions in my next couple of articles. In the meantime, remember: Multitasking lowers productivity, makes tasks take longer to accomplish, and opens the door to making many more mistakes.

Dick Betts is a national speaker, trainer and consultant. Learn more at