Multitasking can take place when someone tries to perform two tasks simultaneously, switch. from one task to another, or perform two or more tasks in rapid succession.

It is believed that the word multitasking arose in the 1960s meaning the concurrent performance of several jobs by a computer. It loosened up and became figurative like so many words do. There are numerous examples of this. The new steam-powered engines of the mid-1800’s gave us the term “full steam ahead,” which once referred to a very specific function of those engines. Factories powered by complex and novel machines gave us the word “downtime” in the 1940s, which once referred specifically to periods between shifts when the machinery would be powered down.

The word multitask is actually a misnomer as computer processors actually do one thing at a time. It is just that they do it at such a blistering pace. Your computer might seem to be your computer is, for example, streaming audio, downloading emails and calculating a spreadsheet without a flinch, its multitasking processors are actually switching back and forth among all three jobs.

How the Brain Multitasks

The prefrontal cortex of the brain begins working anytime you need to pay attention. This area of your brain helps keep your attention on a single goal and carry out the task by coordinating messages with other brain systems. Working on a single task means both sides of the prefrontal cortex are working together in harmony. Adding another task forces the left and right sides of the brain to work independently. Scientists at the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM) in Paris discovered this when they asked study participants to complete two tasks at the same time while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The results showed that the brain splits in half and causes us to forget details and make three times more mistakes when given two simultaneous goals.

Benefits of Multitasking are:

Multitasking helps you achieve your goals in a shorter period of time. A professional can finish multiple tasks at the same time another gets one task done. There are many tasks that each of us has to do on a regular basis and taking, these sorts of tasks need multitasking.       

It increases productivity. Not every task a person does generates values or money. Many tasks are facilitative or just things one has to do. These tasks don’t have any impact on the bottom line of the company or that of the professional. In a good way, multitasking increases productivity when the same time can be spent on work that will bring in more revenue or have a tangible impact on the company’s or individual’s fortunes.

Fortifies focus.  Since multitasking is in high demand, so a person has to be clearly focused on each and every task at hand to get them done and not just done but done right. This creates your mental focus on your tasks and so it helps in mental strengthening. One gets trained to switch from one task to another, thus enabling flexibility in focus. Such a level of focus and ability to switch also increase resilience. Given the world we live in and work in, there is constant chatter everywhere. With distractions galore, one can do with a bit more focus and resilience.

Multitasking can also help you to live with chaos. There are numerous sources of information that come to people every day in a wide variety of ways. No longer is the daily morning meeting the one place to get tasks that need to be completed. Instant messages, emails, text messages, and other forms of communication make it possible for anyone to get in touch with someone virtually anywhere in the world. Instead of being bothered by a boss that’s 3 cubicles down and distracted by their demands, anyone with an internet connection can create a distraction. By multitasking these events, it becomes possible to create a structure of sanity in a world of information that is truly chaotic.

Disadvantages of Multitasking

While it is an essential skill in the workplace, multitasking can be counterproductive, especially when some tasks take longer or produce undesired results.

Multitasking may lead to mental issues. Psychologists who study what happens to cognition (mental processes) when people try to perform more than one task at a time have found that the mind and brain were not designed for heavy-duty multitasking.

In the mid-1990s, Robert Rogers, PhD, and Stephen Monsell, D.Phil, found that even when people had to switch completely predictably between two tasks every two or four trials, they were still slower on task-switch than on task-repeat trials

In experiments published in 2001, Joshua Rubinstein, PhD, Jeffrey Evans, PhD, and David Meyer, PhD, conducted four experiments in which young adults switched between different tasks, such as solving math problems or classifying geometric objects. For all tasks, the participants lost time when they had to switch from one task to another. As tasks got more complex, participants lost more time. As a result, people took significantly longer to switch between more complex tasks. Time costs were also greater when the participants switched to tasks that were relatively unfamiliar. They got up to speed faster when they switched to tasks they knew better.

Multitasking is distracting. Because, when a person tries to focus on a single task; they get distracted. This sort of distraction can become chronic and can affect your mental health too. Simple or singular tasks may not draw enough focus and one may be drawn to minor tasks that are repetitive and what can be automated or done swiftly without much brainwork.

People often have a flawed perception of the success of multitasking. Although many studies have shown that multitasking decreases the efficiency and productivity of workers in the long run, people often have a flawed perception of their actual performance and many people really think that carrying out several tasks at the same time will make them more productive.

Wrong priorities. Another problem of multitasking is that people will often set the wrong priorities in their lives. For instance, some tasks will be much more important to you than others. However, you may no longer recognize this once you are in multitasking mode and this can lead to a state where you neglect the things or people that are most important to you.

Multitasking affects IQ. A study by the University of London found that participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks, experienced an IQ score decline similar to those who have stayed up all night. Some of the multitasking men had their IQ drop 15 points, leaving them with the average IQ of an 8-year-old child. The next time you find yourself in a meeting, trying to juggle listening to your boss and reading the day’s top stories, know that little information will be stored from either task when all is said and done.

Creativity is Inhibited. Devoting our attention to too many tasks at once, we will never have working memory left to come up with ideas and concepts that are truly creative. Yes, we will get our assignments done in an average rate and scope, but greatness will be beyond our reach.

  • Stops you from getting into a state of flow: Flow is the state of mind where we’re so focused on a task that our productivity skyrockets. (In one example, executives said they were 500% more productive while in flow). However, flow requires sustained effort and focus. Something multitasking gets in the way of.

To Multitask or Not to Multitask?

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, one sensed a kind of exuberance about the possibilities of multitasking. Advertisements for new electronic gadgets — particularly the first generation of handheld digital devices — celebrated the notion of using technology to accomplish several things at once.

 While there are some benefits in multitasking, it is better to monotask. Monotasking is all about doing one thing at a time with your full attention, completing the task, then moving on to something else.

Multitasking has also been found to increase production of cortisol, the stress hormone. Having our brain constantly shift gears pumps up stress and tires us out, leaving us feeling mentally exhausted (even when the work day has barely begun).

One study found that just 2.5% of people are able to multitask effectively. For the rest of us, our attempts to do multiple activities at once aren’t actually that.

In might not be a problem listening to music while driving or folding laundry while watching TV. But when the stakes are higher and the tasks are more complex, trying to multitask can negatively impact our lives – or even be dangerous.