Is multitasking exhausting our brains?

Carolyn Davidson – She just did it!
September 29, 2016
10 Tips for Effective Time Management
October 13, 2016

Are you constantly tired, even if you’ve had a really good night’s sleep? For morning fans of both caffeine and smartphones, that’s not surprising.

If you head straight for your laptop when you wake up, make a coffee, have half an ear or eye on the news on radio or TV, and use one hand for buttering toast while the other is checking Facebook on your phone, then you’re suffering from multitasking overload.

Of course, you can’t really do multiple things at once – you only have two hands for a start. What you’re actually doing is swapping rapidly from one to the other; think of it in terms of having too many apps open on your phone. Eventually, there won’t be enough processing power to cope, and you’ll have to force quit a few, or even reboot altogether.

Just as your phone will use up processing power to cope when multitasking, so will your brain – this is when we reach for that extra cup of coffee, that sugary snack, in short, when we eat too much. Rather than turning to empty calories for a quick fix and a mighty crash, what we actually need to do is take a break. Besides, if you’re too overstimulated to take advantage of that cup of coffee in the first place, it isn’t going to help you anyway.

However, if your break isn’t actually a break, that overstimulation doesn’t end. You might have stopped working, but if your break involves spending 15 minutes flipping between Facebook and Twitter and back again, taking on board multiple statuses and shared posts, you’re still encouraging that same lack of focus. Allow your mind to drift, even if you’re reading or listening to music.

Additionally, if your break is more interruption than relaxation, it’s going to take you getting on for 25 minutes to focus on your original task, and you’ll probably stop off at one or two other unimportant distractions along the way. Perhaps your email alert will sound – there’s another important factor in the stress pattern. Our email is a particularly important stressor as – just occasionally – good news arrives electronically. Psychologists call this ‘random reinforcement’ and it’s a powerful distraction tool for those of us that are already suffering poor concentration. In fact, it’s an incentive to self-interrupt.

So how can we combat this, and is technology really the enemy of concentration?

Yes and no; setting limits on checking and responding to emails for fifteen minutes two or three times a day is helpful. Going cold-turkey on always-on social media might also prove essential to real fix addicts. Ten minute bursts morning and evening will suffice, and if you’re reliant on social media for business purposes, use a tweet and post scheduler to make it seem like you’re always there, even if you haven’t stepped away from more important tasks all day.

In terms of the best tips for your office life, don’t work for more than two hours before taking a proper, multitasking-free break.

If you find you can’t switch off when faced with forced relaxation, go old-school and let your mind wander on a piece of paper. After all, it can’t send you notifications when you least need the distraction.