If You’re Trying to Be Productive, Stop Multitasking

July 30, 2020 by Deborah Christensen MSN, APRN, AOCNS®

When it comes to the human brain, the ability to effectively multitask is a myth. Although computers can run two or more programs simultaneously, our brains must task-switch, and in the transfer of attention, time and productivity are lost. Monotasking, or single tasking, is now considered a way to increase productivity and actually maximize time.

What the Research Tells Us

As the brain juggles between one or more tasks, the seconds of time spent mentally shifting from one activity to the next and focusing on the other activity add up over the course of a day. Media multitasking involves using multiple forms of media, such as talking on the cell phone while working on the computer or reading email. Researchers at Stanford University found that students who were heavy multimedia users were more easily distracted (https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0903620106) than students who used media formats less often. University of Utah researchers found (https://doi.org/10.3758/PBR.17.4.479) that 97% of the 200 students tested lost proficiency when multitasking while driving and talking on a cell phone.

Even without scientific evidence, monotasking makes sense. Focused attention is a type of mindfulness practice. Being present when writing an email or having a conversation with a colleague can lead to improved results and relationships.

Have you ever been talking with someone when they are distracted by other work? How did you feel when the conversation was finished? Not surprisingly, when we attempt to divide our attention, we are more susceptible to feeling stress, even if we can’t identify why.

“When trying to concentrate on a task, an unread email in your inbox can reduce your effective IQ by 10 points,” neuroscientist Dan Levitan explained (https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/313653/the-organized-mind-by-daniel-j-levitin/). He also reported that cortisol and adrenaline levels measurably rise when multitasking important assignments.

How to Practice

Try the suggestions listed in the sidebar to springboard your way to enjoying increased productivity and less stress when accomplishing daily tasks.

Copyright © 2020 by the Oncology Nursing Society. User has permission to print one copy for personal or unit-based educational use. Contact pubpermissions@ons.org for quantity reprints or permission to adapt, excerpt, post online, or reuse ONS Voice content for any other purpose.