The Mental Cost of Incorrect Multitasking

People love to boast about how they can multitask but the hard truth is that what we call multitasking isn’t actually multitasking. It is called task switching. Task switching is what it sounds like – you are doing one thing, and then you switch to another thing.

Here’s an example – while writing this to you, I stopped at the end of this sentence to visit yahoo.com to read the news, texted my wife, and then eventually got back to finish writing this newsletter. That is classic task switching.

Task switching is something that we do to ourselves without even thinking (no one made me check the news at yahoo.com) but it is extremely detrimental to our focus. Here are some interesting facts about task switching and it’s impact on our body, via Gloria Mark’s research. Gloria is a professor in the Department of Informatics at UC Irvine in California.

  • On average, people switch tasks every 3 minutes and 5 seconds at work
  • On average, people switch projects every 10.5 minutes at work
  • 82% of work that was interrupted by task switching was eventually resumed that day
  • It takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to resume the work (you were just going to check Facebook quickly…23 minutes later…time to get back to work)
  • People who task switch the most have higher levels of stress, frustration, and mental effort

Task switching isn’t good for your brain and is a surefire way to increase stress. When you are working on something, do your best to stay focused on it and see it through to completion. You’ll find that you enjoy your work more and you’ll be more relaxed at the end of the day.

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