Can You Be Productive by Multitasking?

The simple answer is: it depends. Last year I wrote a post on why dual-monitors do not make you twice as productive. Judging from the comments, many people seem to feel it makes them more productive, rather than less. So what do scientists say?

Multitasking makes you more sensitive to incoming information

The human brain was not originally wired to handle numerous, simultaneous, tasks. Think of it this way, the brain helps us organize how we think and what we do—call this the central control tower.

The brain, however, also has immediate emergency alerts that override everything else. Researchers now believe that technology, like email, can trigger those same alerts.

Undoubtedly you have noticed the appeal of an incoming email makes most of us drop everything and look at it.

Can you turn off your internal multitasking?

Let’s be honest, most of know we get easily distracted. But can we turn off our tendency toward multitasking? According to the study, this can be difficult. Once you rewire your brain to handle multiple things, it can become accustomed to that, and may constantly anticipate new stimuli.

When you are trying to focus on one task, your brain is searching for other things to do. In other words, you cannot even focus when you try.

Get a grip and eliminate distractions

I am not sure how to rewire a brain, but I know what I do to cut down on distractions. I close my office door. I close my email (you can still check when you need to). Tweetdeck is a goner.

You might not be able to eliminate your tendency to want new stimuli, but by eliminating things that facilitate that tendency, you can take small strides towards actually focusing on something.

Multitasking can work, but you also need to be able to focus on the task in front of you.


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    It does depend! As someone who spends her whole day in front of a computer, I’m easily distracted by multiple email accounts, Facebook, Twitter, and Google Reader. I’ve had to control these diversions, but sometimes popping over to TweetDeck (or taking a quick walk — but that would require getting up from my desk!) is just the brief respite I need to refocus and complete the task at hand. Thanks for the great post! -ae