Multitasking is considered a desirable skill, but can anyone really do it and do it well? Research has shown over and over that humans really aren’t as good at doing multiple things at once as we think we are.
Technology allows us to do more and more at the same time, but true productive multitasking is still a myth. You may answer emails while talking on the phone or handle business phone calls while driving, but the truth is we are not doing both of these things at the same time well. Although the brain is good at tricking itself into thinking its doing a good job, the truth is you may be making careless typos in your email or pausing unnecessarily during a business phone call. Research has shown that even talking on a hands-free headset while driving is not as risk-free as we may think since it can still lead to potentially fatal driving errors.
Instead of multitasking, what we are actually doing is shifting our focus from one thing to another at rapid speed. When you are switching from task to task quickly, it tricks your mind into thinking you are doing both things at once. MRI machines can detect the brain struggling to do different tasks at once, such as talking on the phone and writing an email. Written and verbal speech are two different forms of communication and it is difficult for the brain to do both well.
We can handle switching back and forth from multiple tasks using the executive system in our frontal lobes, but miscalculations in how well this system is working can lead to consequences ranging from simple mistakes to stress to car accidents depending on our level of multitasking.
Instead of multitasking, scheduling out your day into various chunks can help you cross off your to do list without anything suffering. Plan out your day in a way that works best for you, such as having coffee and checking email in the early quiet of the day or handling phone calls in an hour chunk after lunch. Your brain will feel calmer and you will get more done faster than when you try to do a ton at once. You will do more and do more well this way, while also feeling less busy and less stressed at the end of the day.