It's nearly impossible to not be surrounded by constant distractions these days. While writing this article I am periodically checking my texts every time my phone buzzes, reading the subject lines of the emails that pop up in the corner of my computer screen, and like a fly to a night light, clicking through the numerous tabs displayed across my internet browser. I, along with numerous others, rationalize this erratic behavior by calling it multitasking. This so called skill has become increasingly coveted over the last decade as technology has made access to nearly everything --at an instant-- possible. While some people praise or rely on their ability to multitask, research has begun to show that it may be hurting you.
“Not only is the scientific evidence unequivocal that multitasking gets us nowhere, we can take it a step further and say multitasking is actually unproductive, bad for our brains, addictive, and really bad for our health,” said Harvard Business School historian Nancy Koehn on Boston Public Radio Tuesday.
A recent article in the New York Times cleverly entitled “Read This Story Without Distraction (Can You?)” references a 2014 Journal of Experimental Psychology that found that two to three-second interruptions were enough to double the amount of mistakes in your work. (I can only imagine how many mistakes will be in this write-up.)
“We all know this at some level, but to see it demonstrated with such clarity is really interesting,” said Koehn. The main message is to pay attention to what you are doing now, and a whole bunch of good stuff starts to happen, says Koehn.
In addition to helping with work and life tasks, monotasking as it’s called, can also benefit your relationships. It has become commonplace to see families and couples eating dinner while looking at their phones, sending emails, and texting. The meaningful moments we have with other people don’t happen while we are multitasking, says Koehn. “We are often not texting or talking; you are actually really listening because the person is important,” she said.
Koehn points out that monotasking is easier said than done. "This idea that it is hard to do this is absolutely right and the idea that it’s worth doing is not only right intuitively, it is also very well demonstrated."