Multitasking, Your Brain, & Family

We live in a fast-paced world. Information, both wanted and unwanted, constantly “pops up:” breaking news, tweets, Instagram messages, weather reports, work messages, advertisements, calls, notifications…the list goes on. This fast pace is compounded right now as many families are working from home while helping their children navigate on-line school. Speaking of our children, they have not escaped this fast-paced, information flooding world either. They message friends, catch snippets of their favorite game, and watch videos while signed into their on-line school setting. It is an epoch of extravagant multitasking…especially if we do not intentionally and mindfully slow down the input and learn to focus.

“Who cares?” you might ask. “Why not multitask? I have a lot to do, a lot to get done. I have to multitask.” Well, a study published in 2017 suggests multitasking reduces productivity by up to 40%. In other words, we get less done when multitasking. The fMRI’s used in this study showed that multitasking, and quickly switching from activity to activity, interferes with brain activity. Concentration decreased. Stress increases. Thinking is hindered. The lack of focus inherent in multitasking reduces efficiency and cuts productivity by up to 40%.

A more recent study suggested that multitasking contributed to an increase in stress. That stress triggered feelings of sadness and even a touch of fear. This is bad news for families because emotions are “contagious.” If one person’s stress triggers an increase in sadness, that sadness can spread to others in the family. I’m sure you’ve experienced this. One person becomes stressed and sad, frustrated because they’ve been trying to complete an important task amidst the constant interruptions of emails, phone calls, tweets, and questions. Then they “take out” this stress and frustration on the innocent spouse or child or parent who tells them dinner is ready. Suddenly, the whole house is on edge.

What can you do to limit multitasking, increase productivity, and decrease the risk of a negative emotional contagion? Here are a few tips to help.

  • Work on one task at a time. Set aside distractions (see bullets below). Let your family know you need an hour (or whatever time you allot) so you can do your work distraction free.
  • Turn off the notification on your phone and computer.
  • Schedule specific times to answer emails. Do not look at each email as it arrives. Schedule a time to answer them in groups. You might set up two times a day or 15 minutes every two hours. Whatever works best in allowing you blocks of time to focus on single tasks.
  • Schedule your social media use as well. We do not have to answer every tweet and message immediately. Let your friends and family know that you respond to messages at set times.

Putting these 4 tips into practice will help you escape the trap of multitasking. You will find yourself more productive. Your mood will likely improve…and your family will definitely appreciate that!

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