I used to think that the more things I could do simultaneously, the better skilled I’d be at this game called life. I thought it would make me stand out from the crowd. Kind of like a clown juggling and clog dancing at the same time, only cooler. If I could achieve the skills needed to multitask successfully, it would pave the way to more productivity, more happiness and hopefully more chocolate. Boy was I wrong. Multitasking is a waste of time.
The only thing multitasking has done for me was prove that over-stretching my mental capacity by doing more than one task at a time could be disastrous, especially if it requires hand-eye coordination or an open flame. And, funny enough, there’s actual scientific evidence that backs me up on this.
According to Jim Taylor, Ph.D., our brains are much better at handling a single task at a time, especially if the tasks are involving the same part of the brain such as reading e-mail and talking on the phone. Actually, when we think we’re multitasking we’re really doing something called serial tasking. This is where our brain shifts from one task to another in succession. We just misunderstand this to be multitasking.
Many research studies reviewed by the American Psychological Association show that the brain takes up to 40 percent more time to switch over from one task to the next when multitasking. It seems like the brain has a lag time before it can fully process the new task. This delay may seem like a quick shift to us, but it really isn’t. So basically, when we multitask we wind up taking a longer time to complete stuff. But there are many other reasons why you shouldn’t multitask.
So here are my seven reasons why multitasking is a waste of time:
1. I wind up burning my dinner
It never fails. The minute I leave the kitchen to send a quick email or wash my face, I forget I’m even cooking something. It’s not until that familiar burning smell wafts through the apartment that I realize I’ve just turned my veggie burger into a hockey puck.
2. I have the attention span of a gnat
Paying attention becomes a challenge when I’m chatting on the phone. I start out talking to my sister and think, I should clean my apartment while I talk. Then my cleaning turns into organizing my cabinets, which escalates into cleaning out the bathroom drain with an old toothbrush (which, by the way, can be very helpful in avoiding a clog and an unwanted lecture from my landlord) and finally peaks with me tossing out unidentifiable food from the fridge. Before I know it, I realized I haven’t heard a word my sister has said because I was too busy checking for old expiration dates on my yogurt.
3. I forget my train of thought
What was I saying? Oh, yeah. If I’m thoroughly engaged in a physical task, I find it harder to tell a coherent story. My boyfriend will wait patiently as I try to tell him something that happened in my day. But I’ll be so consumed with completing my task at hand that I pause in mid-story trying to figure out where I left off. His prompts usually help in guiding me back to my point, but many times I’m like, “I told you that part already? I don’t remember.” It’s really bad. I’m just so consumed with keeping busy, I forget my lips are flapping and making words, I guess. Who am I kidding? There’s no excuse.
4. I underestimate my time
Sometimes I think I’m like Wonder Woman. And that’s not meant to be a bold, confident statement on how great I think I am. What I mean is Wonder Woman has supernatural powers that allow her to do things that leave others in awe. And she looks great doing it. I, on the other hand, just think I have supernatural powers and unfortunately wind up looking ridiculous.
Like when I decided to squeeze in a few errands before my dentist appointment. I thought I had plenty of time to knock some stuff off my to-do list. Ha! The only thing I did manage to achieve was apologizing to the dental receptionist for missing my appointment and giving her my credit card number to cover the late cancellation fee. Oh, well, at least I achieved something.
5. I double book myself
Doctors and hair dressers aren’t the only people guilty of doing this. Sometimes I just hate to say “no” to someone. I assume I’ll figure out how to squeeze in the time to help that person even though I already have something planned. For instance, my friend wanted to talk to me about his relationship problem, but I also promised to help another friend shop for a wedding gift. I suddenly felt torn. I wanted to help them both.
My solution: I wound up driving my second friend to the mall as she listened to me console my first friend on the phone. I know it’s not really fair to either of them, but what could I do? It feels like I’m failing my friends if I say “no” to them. Maybe I need to take an assertiveness training class. I think I could probably squeeze it in before yoga.
RELATED: How To Increase Your Attention Span (Seriously)
6. I have to do things over
If I’m not giving my undivided attention to a task, then there’s a pretty good chance that failure is not far behind. Like when I made biscotti while watching The Time Traveler’s Wife on my laptop. I was so engaged in the movie I couldn’t remember what ingredients I had added. Then I forgot to set the timer, but I really thought I did. That is, until I smelled that familiar burning smell wafting around my place yet again. Of course I had to pause my movie, because preventing my apartment from burning down trumps watching an emotionally gripping story, even if it’s at the best part.
7. I miss out on the fun
I’m multitasking right now. I have a load of whites in the washing machine and I just finished cooking my dinner before writing this. And, sad to say, I didn’t really even taste my food as I ate it and wrote these words. Such a shame because it was a great meal. I put in all that work cooking it and then I skimped my taste buds by focusing on my article instead of taking some time to sit down and eat like a normal human being. All those calories and zero enjoyment. When will I learn?
So, I’ve discovered that multitasking isn’t what it’s all cracked up to be. Not everyone can do it. And to those of you who can do it, I commend you. Far be it from me to…
Are those my cookies burning? I gotta go…