Multi-Tasking and Your Mental Health
Doesn’t being able to complete several tasks at the same time seems like a great way to work? Do you think you can work on more than one thing at a time..and do both correctly? Let’s talk about multi-tasking and how it can affect your mental health.
Multi-tasking Does Affect Your Mental Health
It may seem like it is increasing productivity and saving you time and energy, and many women are proud of their multi-tasking abilities. However, ongoing research has confirmed that multi-tasking can have negative effects on levels of productivity and overall brain health in some cases.
Multi-tasking Works Best Only If Different Stimuli Are Used
Some tasks can be done at the same time, but most experts agree that multi-tasking works best if the tasks involved do not use the same stimuli, such as reading a message from the laptop while listening to music. Both of these tasks involve the same area of our brain and our brain is not designed to deal with the same stimulus challenge at the exact same time.
I have determined that I can listen to instrumental music “elevator music” while processing emails but if the music playing includes singing..not only do I start singing along but I start typing out the song!
Everyone understands that texting while driving a vehicle at the same time is considered extremely dangerous. You are using the same visual stimulus for both tasks. They are both competing for the same limited focus. Although it appears you are multi-tasking, you can only be actively engaged with one or the other.
So instead of completing two things at once, you are actually rapidly switching from one to the other, and back again. If your attention is attracted to the phone for a second too long, the job of consciously controlling the vehicle ceases, and catastrophe can follow.
Another example is when you are attempting to listen to multiple conversations around you. It is impossible to listen to two people who are talking to you simultaneously, because your auditory stimulus becomes overwhelmed.
Multi-tasking Can Harm Your Memory Ability
If you find yourself multi-tasking, each task that your mind is engaged in will drain a part of your mental energy. As your mental energy drains, you become more absent-minded. This is because your mind begins to drift.
Even if you could complete the two tasks successfully, you will quite probably not recall how you completed the tasks. This is because our brain does not have the ability to fully focus on two or several tasks at the same time.
Each time you multi-task, your mind becomes a juggling act. When you multitask, you are diluting your mind’s investment towards each task.
When Multi-taskers Think They Perform Better
A study headed by Zheng Wang of Ohio State University showed that people who were text messaging while being asked to focus on the images displayed on a computer monitor had decreased levels of performance.
What makes this finding even more troubling is that those subjects who were asked to multi-task using the same visual stimulus, believed they performed better, although the results showed the opposite.
Their ability to focus on images displayed on their computer monitor plummeted up to 50% even though they thought they were performing perfectly. The same study participants were asked to multi-task using different stimuli, such as visual and auditory, and were found to have reduced levels of performance as much as 30%.
Professor Wang stated that performance level perception when multi-tasking is not the same, as the results proved. Researchers have also found that media multi-tasking increases your risks of developing impaired cognitive control.
The most current research is confirming that multi-tasking means “performing multiple tasks sub-optimally”. Unfortunately, in addition to productivity losses, there is a compounding, taxing burden placed on the mental and emotional faculties. This results in accumulated stress, which is already a very real problem for many, if not most, to some degree.
Although technology today makes it difficult for us to avoid multi-tasking, making yourself more aware of when it is happening and trying to reduce it will go along way to lowering the stress on your body and mind.
Of course there are tasks that can be combined and both have excellent results. As a mom, we get pulled in many directions at the same time by the needs of our children and home. And while I can rock a toddler and sing sweet songs to them or recite scriptures to them at the same time, neither of these activities are demanding or causing me stress.
Too Many Responsibilities
The problem with multi-tasking starts when we have too much on our plate and either don’t realize it or ignore the signs. In the working world, we call this “the law of diminishing returns”. This is the point at which the level of benefits gained is less than the amount of energy invested. In other words, when your brain dead and can’t remain focused on the task.
When I find myself trying to do to many things at once (aka multi-talking), I have to stop and take time to look over what is on my list of things to be completed. Are there things that I can delegate? Perhaps there are a few items that can be deferred to a later date or even dropped completely off the list.
Create A Plan
Once I have cleared what I can off my list, I look it over and create a new list based on either deadlines if the projects have hard deadlines, or prioritize based on the importance of the project. Then I set a timer for 15 minutes and start to work on projects starting at the top of the list.
When my 15 minutes of working are up, I switch to the next thing on the list. I do this for three (3) pockets of time each hour. The last 15 minutes of each hour, I get away from my desk, walk around, grab a snack, and clear my mind. If I am ready to start back to work before the timer goes off, I will use that time to clear something off the list way at the bottom. But as soon as the timer goes off, I am back on the number one task on the list.
No, I rarely make it through my complete list each day and many times I run into a roadblock where I need something from someone else before I can continue. Rather than wait on the other person, I will set the current project aside and move on to the next item on the list. After a couple of hours I start to see the finish line on the tasks and if not, I clearly mark when I stopped so I can get started tomorrow without spending time reviewing.
Also if I determine that the task is too much to list as just one line item, I will break the project into manageable tasks, preferably ones that can be done in 15 minutes or less. So some larger projects may have 15 or 20 smaller tasks on my list.
Start Each Day With New List
Each morning I prepare a new list for the day, starting off again at the top. I am often amazed that as projects roll from day to day without me being able to work down to them, they start to seem less important. There have been times when I made the decision to delete or defer the task to another time or reach out to someone else and delegate the task to them.
It doesn’t take a genius to see when we have allowed the demands on our time to outweigh the time we have to offer. Being overloaded isn’t just being busy, it causes us to stress over things and will start to affect our bodies and mental health.