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Why Multi-Tasking is Your Worst Enemy


For years it was common to hear teachers say “I’m a great multi-tasker” or “multi-tasking is one of my gifts”.  From a professional development standpoint,  current research suggests that being a multi-tasker isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

In fact, multi-tasking has been proven to lead to lower levels of creativity, higher levels of stress, and a higher reduction in cognition than people experience from marijuana.

Here’s why multi-tasking isn’t the Holy Grail

When people are multi-tasking, their brain is jumping back and fourth from one subject to another.  The human brain can, at most, focus on two subjects at a time before losing cognitive abilities.

Once we begin to work on multiple jobs at the same time, our brain is pulled in multiple directions which decreases the “RAM” that is available for an individual task.

Here’s the worst part – completing small tasks like sending a text message, email or tweet actually feeds our brain a small amount of dopamine.  Because of the way we are wired, we search out more and more of these “small satisfaction” tasks as opposed to focusing on the larger & more important projects on our list.

Multi-tasking kills brain creativity

While taking up all of the available space in your brain to process and make connections, this doesn’t leave any space for creativity.  When someone focuses on one topic at a time, they leave the rest of their brain available for creative thinking.

When you multi-task, your brain becomes overly taxed and doesn’t have the faculties available to be creative or solve problems.  Instead, we are actually performing at lower cognitive levels.  Some studies have shown that simply multi-tasking can lower your IQ score by 10 pts.

Plummeting Productivity

Remember, this all started because we wanted to be able to handle more tasks and be more productive, right?

Research on multi-tasking has shown that people experience a 40% decrease in productivity when multi-tasking.  So, for all of us that thought we were being more productive by multi-tasking, we actually might have been making the problem worse.

It’s actually bad for your health

Ever seen that person who seems like they are always busy and extremely stressed?

You might want to show them this study – people who multi-task experience a higher heart rate when multi-tasking as well as increased levels of stress.

So, what’s the solution?

There are a variety of names and strategies to combat multi-tasking.  Some of these are called batching or the pomodoro technique.

The basic idea is that it is important to focus on one task at a time and minimize your interruptions.  This allows us to put all of our cognitive faculties into one task and increase our productivity.

Why Organization can help

Good organization can also be a key to minimizing your multi-tasking efforts.  Everyone has had that situation where you are planning a lesson and then all of a sudden you remember something you forgot to do or you come up with a great idea for a lesson.

What ensues is a neural ping-pong match where your brain goes back and fourth between your original task and whatever you just remembered.

Instead of jumping to that task, create a system that allows you to file that thought or idea away quickly and come back to it at a later time.

The Take-away

Help yourself be more productive and ultimately, less stressed-out by creating an environment of minimal multi-tasking and reduced distractions.  This will not only help you to be a more effective teacher but also allow you to more fully enjoy your life outside of the classroom.

Do you have a personal example of decreased productivity due to multi-tasking?  Share with us in the comments section below.

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(NOTE: Credits for Teachers provides self-paced online Professional Development courses for K12 teachers.  Teachers who take our courses receive graduate credit from our university partner that can be used for salary advancement or license renewal – Learn More Now)

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