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Is Multitasking Killing Your Productivity?

October 28, 2014

Recent research from Stanford University proves what many may be hesitant to admit: multitasking is actually less productive than working on a single task at a time. The study shows that when multitasking, people perform poorly because they have trouble organizing their thoughts and filtering out irrelevant information. This is because our brains lack the capacity to efficiently do two things at once.

Aside from hindering performance, research also shows that multitasking lowers your IQ score.  According to a study from the University of London, participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks produced IQ scores that were similar to what they’d expect if they had smoked marijuana or stayed up all night.


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What’s worse is that the effects of multitasking aren’t just temporary. New research from the University of Sussex reports that frequent multitaskers have less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region responsible for cognitive and emotional control. TalentSmart, the world’s premier provider of emotional intelligence (EQ), has tested more than one million individuals and found that multitasking in social settings indicates low self- and social-awareness. These are both EQ skills critical to performance in the workplace; TalentSmart’s research shows that 90 percent of top performers possess high EQs. If multitasking does indeed damage the part of the brain associated with emotional intelligence, then it’s likely to lower EQ too.


It turns out that multitasking is more dangerous than we previously thought, as it doesn’t just harm your performance in the moment, but it may be causing brain damage and compromising your success in the future.


Here are some helpful tips to avoid multitasking:


1. Start your day with a to-do list. Writing down an agenda and adding to it throughout the day has proven to be more effective than trying to handle items as they pop up. So instead of dropping everything to tackle a new task, take a moment to add the item to your to-do list, and then return to whatever it is you were working on. Writing the new task down will help your brain set it aside and refocus.


2. Cross that finish line. Be sure to complete a task start-to-finish before picking up a new one. Crossing an item off your to-do list is a great way to build productivity momentum and keep you motivated for the next task.


3. Group similar tasks together. Instead of answering an email every time it drops into your inbox, try scheduling blocks of time in your day to answer multiple emails. Small tasks like these can be grouped together to improve productivity throughout the day.


4. Don’t let small tasks interrupt big ones. You might be tempted to take a break from a big project and pick up a small task just because you know it’ll be easy, but don’t. Stay focused on the big project and group together the smaller tasks for later.


5. Eliminate distractions. Close your email, turn off your text alerts and exit out of those unnecessary tabs. Keep focused on the task at hand. You can reward yourself with a few minutes of scheduled down-time after you finish.


6. Be present in social situations. Be conscious of where you are and who you are with at work. This means not answering emails during a conference call or surfing the web during a meeting. Whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing—do it, and be fully present throughout the process.


7. Keep your workspace clean. A cluttered desk equals a cluttered mind. Keeping things organized and put away in files is a great way to stay focused on the task at hand. Out of sight, out of mind. Clear your workspace of everything but the task you want to work on.


This article includes multiple references from “Multitasking Damages Your Brain and Career, New Studies Suggest,” which originally appeared on Forbes.com. To view the article: click here.