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How Debunking the Myth of Multitasking Can Save Us Time and Stress

By Stacey Ross

I spent a good amount of years thinking that I could do a lot at once; it was pretty clear to me that I was tops at multitasking, and was even convinced that women were just coded to juggle many things at once, setting us apart from our male counterparts! We could cook, balance our checkbooks, tend to our kids, and watch the news all at once. Oh, yeah, and check our texts and respond to our Facebook posts every five minutes, too. Piece of cake, right? Maybe not.

Highly sought-after author, speaker, and business coach Dave Crenshaw shares in his book, The Myth of Multitasking, that multitasking actually wastes our time and costs us money, making us far less efficient and productive. I recommend you check out his TED-style speech, as it might be one of the best investments you ever make. If you are like me, you might come to grips with the reality that our relationships both at work and home have suffered due to the misconception our ability to multitask was an asset. Phew!

Stanford Professor says we had it all wrong!

So, it turns out, I had it all wrong. Studies suggest that we are actually increasing the time we take to complete tasks rather than being more time-efficient. As the time spent juggling things increases, the quality of our work decreases, the quality of our communication decreases, and our overall well-being decreases. That’s a lot of decreasing!

Clifford Nass, author of The Man Who Lied to His Laptop and professor of communications and psychology at Stanford University in California, was interviewed on NPR about multitasking and said that the practice actually wastes more of our time than it saves—and that there's evidence it may be killing our concentration and creativity too. Nass shared that Stanford students are using four or more media at one time “so when they're writing a paper, they're also Facebooking, listening to music, texting, Twittering, et cetera. And that's something that just couldn't happen in previous generations even if we wanted it to.”

He claims that there is some evidence that there is a very small group of people who can do two tasks at one time, but there's actually no evidence that anyone can do even three. He reminds us that the top 25 percent of tweens – at least tween girls – are attempting three or more tasks at one time and that the picture is “bleak.”

One of the callers to NPR suggested that it theoretically would be advantageous for humans to evolve to be able to multitask and inquired about the benefits of that being the case in the future. I found it interesting that Nass suggested that it’s very healthful for our brains to do integrative things. An example would be interacting with our kids in the garden while reading planting directions. While each activity takes a bit of a shift in focus, it is all directed towards the same goal and ultimate task-at-hand.

Nass suggested that it is extremely destructive (scientific studies back this) for our brains to do non-integrative things. An example might be following a recipe at the kitchen island while assisting your kid with an algebra problem. Let's just say that the sum of a cake's parts might not equal what you had hoped for! (Confession: guilty as charged.)

So are you under the impression that multitasking is a good thing and you are one of that super small percentage of people that are gifted multitaskers? Chances are that if you are good at juggling, you have merely become an effective caretaker, which means you are efficient at tending to various short-term tasks, like taking care of your beloved kid, patient, pet, etc., or your next blogging assignment on your alternate screen...Now where was I?

Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of SanDiegoBargainMama.com. A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.

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