Constant multitasking is damaging millennial brains, research shows
You probably know that multitasking makes you less productive not more so. Neuroscientists, psychologists, and efficiency experts have been telling the world for years that since the brain can't actually pay attention to more than one thing at a time. What we experience as multitasking is really rapid and repeated switching of our attention from one thing to another and the back again. And though it feels good, it means each task is completed more slowly and less well than if you just did one thing at a time.
Apparently, Millennials haven't gotten the memo. That's the depressing finding by researchers at Bryan College, who have prepared a fantastic and lengthy infographic that details the high costs of Millennial multitasking.
For example, the average Millennial switches his or her attention among media platforms 27 times per hour. This is bad because studies have shown that multitasking can lower your IQ by 15 points. It trashes your emotional intelligence as well, which isn't surprising--if you're switching your gaze from your laptop to your smartphone to a TV screen and back again, you stand to miss a lot of subtle nonverbal signals from the person you're simultaneously talking with.
Performing a mental task while multitasking yields similar results to performing the same task if you got no sleep the previous night, research shows. And it gets worse. Prolonged multitasking will actually damage your brain. Regular multitaskers have less brain density in areas controlling cognitive and emotional functions.
You wouldn't think smart employers would want the young people working for them to be emotionally unintelligent, 40 percent less efficient, stupider, less attentive, or ultimately brain-damaged, if only mildly so. And yet, most employers seem eager to hire multitasking employees. "The ability to multitask is a skill you will see posted on countless job openings across the globe. Many business leaders view this as a highly desirable skill in a job candidate," according to a Ryan College representative.
I at first read this comment with skepticism. Surely employers know better than to actually seek out multitasking employees, I thought. To test the statement I decided to review a few randomly selected job listings and see if I would find one that specifically asked for a multitasker. The very first one I looked at said this: "Must be organized and able to keep track of multiple activities which include the ability to prioritize and perform multiple tasks in the same timeframe." Yikes.
There's hope, Bryan researchers say, if Millennial employees and their employers both work to stop the madness. Here's what they suggest:
1. Schedule blocks of uninterrupted time.
Periods of focused work, during which you put all your attention on a single task, interspersed with brief breaks when you can "bathe in the sea of digital temptation," as the researchers put it, is a great way to increase focus and productivity. My favorite way to do this is with the Pomodoro Technique, in which you work for 25-minute chunks of time and then take a five-minute break.
2. Use distraction-blocking apps.
Here's a great list of distraction-blocking tools and apps compiled by my Inc.com colleague Jessica Stillman. Using apps like these can fight the temptation to sneak a peek at social media (or play Candy Crush) while you're supposed to be writing a pitch or filling out a spreadsheet.
3. Practice yoga and/or meditation.
Either (or better yet, both) will significantly increase your ability to focus, concentrate, reduce stress throughout the day, and reduce multitasking. Smart employers should offer these classes in the workplace, the researchers advise.
4. Try a shorter work week.
For this to work, employers and employees both need to have a clear sense of how much the employee would reasonably accomplish during a typical week. Once you have agreement on that reasonable workload, try shortening the work week to 32 or 25 hours, the researchers suggest. Why? Because knowing you have less time to accomplish a task--and knowing you can have extra time off if you get it done--will help motivate you to be more efficient, more focused, and less easily distracted.
However you do it, cutting back on or eliminating multitasking is well worth the effort. You'll be smarter, you'll do better work, and you'll finish it more quickly. Your brain will thank you too.
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