It’s noon and my lunch break. I try to make the most out of this time as I can. The dogs are fed and let out, I catch up on emails, phone calls, text messages and snap chats all while my lunch is in the microwave. I race myself: how much can I get done while the microwave counts down from a minute thirty? My lunch time microwave multitasking skills make me feel efficient, productive, and awesome.
Then the unthinkable happened. Somehow, the latch on my microwave door broke meaning that the thing won’t cook food unless you hold the door closed. No more multitasking.
At first, I was pretty upset. I was so good at getting things done during that time and I really needed it! But I decided to make a small social experiment out of it: Stop trying to multitask during the microwave count down and see if there is any change in productivity levels. So for two weeks, I sat there when my hand on the door, feeling helpless and wasteful.
This story goes as you’d expect: “I thought I was being more productive but really I was making things harder on myself!”, “When I don’t multitask I actually get more accomplished”, etc. Here are some things I discovered:
- One minute and thirty seconds is not enough time to get anything done effectively. I can’t even finish an email in a minute and thirty seconds. And the times I tried- I spelled the recipients’ name wrong or didn’t double check my calendar leading to more work in the future correcting my mistakes.
- I felt less stress when I stopped trying to run around to beat the clock. Most of the stress was coming from just finding the appropriate task to complete in that amount of time: “What can I do? What can I do? What can I do?!?”
- What is going on that I have to microwave all my lunches?!?! If I am not trying to multitask, I have more time and energy to make a real meal and sit and enjoy it rather than wolf something down
- Yes, the high of getting things done just as the timer goes off is very satisfying, but this feeling is rare and not worth the stress
- I was burning my food and/or my tongue more than I wanted to admit by trying to multitask
- I took my lunch time back! No longer was it just one more hour to work, it truly was a break, meaning that when I was ready to go back to work I was more focused and energized.
So I did some research on the subject. Here are some take-aways I found from research articles on this subject. The first one I find very important because it actually explains the “myth” of multitasking:
“Counter to conventional wisdom, you can’t do two high-cognitive tasks at once, Meyer says. When you’re on the phone and writing an e-mail at the same time, you’re not doing them at the same time. You’re actually switching back and forth between them, since there’s only one neural channel through which language flows. In that switching there’s a cost: stress, as your brain neurons try to get themselves around the new task or where you were on the primary task each time you switch.” WorktoLive Blog
“Researchers examined the link between multitasking, media use, and emotional health. While there was no correlation between media use and negative outcomes in this particular study, the team did find that the more participants multitasked, the more likely there were to report symptoms of depression and social anxiety.” PsychToday 1
“A study of college students found that the more students multitasked while using their computers the more stress they experienced. The constant bombardment of information to which they were trying to respond elevated their stress responses, which means that chronic multitasking can lead to chronic stress.” PsychToday 1
“Constant switching creates a distractible state of never being fully present. It trains the brain to have a short attention span and shrinks working memory capacity. This is especially pernicious in young people, who are most likely to multitask and whose brains are the most susceptible to programming of bad habits.” PsychToday 2
“To make things worse, multitasking can interfere with short-term memory. “Anytime you’re trying to multitask, you have less attention available to store memories,” he says. For example, a person who tries to read email while talking on the phone will have a hard time retaining any of the information. And if the phone rings while a person’s in the middle of a thought, it will take a while to find that thought again — assuming it can be recovered at all.” Consumer Health
I wonder where else in my life I am task-switching and how much time, energy, and effort I am wasting in the process? Perhaps a topic for another post.
Thanks for reading.