You are reading Multitasking: does it really exist?


Multitasking: does it really exist?

April 18, 2018

When we do more things at the same time we feel overwhelmed but also productive, proud of our ability to juggle so many commitments and deadlines. In fact, this kind of multitasking behavior makes us less efficient at work and in our lives. We have a brain with billions of neurons and billions of connections, able to do more things at the same time. We talk about this topic with Professor Alberto Albanese, neurologist at Humanitas.


Simultaneous actions overload the brain

It takes time (variable from person to person) to reorient the brain when it switches from a primary task to a different and distracting one, such as writing an email. The efficiency of cognitive performance can in fact decrease by up to 40% as the primary task remains to occupy a share of our computer-brain. In these conditions, long-term memory and creativity suffer, a skill usually related to taking into account multiple and less common associations, is reduced. In short, by multitasking we risk making ourselves less productive.

At all times our brain chooses which information to process. Multitasking reduces these automatic adaptive capabilities. For example, if we listen to a voice while speaking to us, the visual cortex becomes less and less active, so when we talk on the phone with a customer and work at the same time on the computer, our ability to “listen” is reduced.

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Why do we persist in trying to do more things at the same time?

Some information is processed automatically, regardless of what we are trying to focus on. Technology-driven distractions often take us away from our primary tasks, because ongoing communications are considered by the brain to be overriding other functions and therefore worthy of interrupting them. The reason is simple: having access to more information makes us feel comfortable. The natural tendency is to look for information that confirms what we already believe, because the more confirmations we receive, the confidence in our choices increases.

“It is a good idea to pay adequate attention to the activity we are doing, without being distracted if we want to be productive and creative – commented the specialist. Not all the information with which we are being bombed is really useful. Consider which communication activities are worthy of stopping you and which do not improve well-being and concentration”.

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