What are you doing while you read this? Are you dipping into your email while texting, reading tweets and partly listening at a meeting? Do you have your mobile phone, a desk phone, a tablet and a laptop all on the go at once?
Probably. We all tend to do it, some more often than others. After all, multitasking is the sign of a highly effective and efficient mind — right?
It’s time for a reminder about the power of singletasking.
It’s not you, it’s your brain.
Doing several things at once makes you feel very busy, but your body and mind simply aren’t designed to work that way. Switching between tasks actually, reduces your proficiency and efficiency. This could be due to how blood flows through our brains. Nerve fibers store very little energy, so when we think, problem-solve or create memories, our gray matter demands a steady supply of oxygen, glucose and nutrients.
Here’s the problem: If you simultaneously activate several parts of your brain, it’s smart enough to distribute incoming blood to those different areas. This reduces the volume and quality of the fuel you can devote to any mental task. Imagine a firefighter trying to put out three house fires at once by spraying a hose back and forth over them all. There’s never enough water in one place to extinguish the blaze.
Multitasking can temporarily lower your IQ.
Some of the earliest research in the field comes from the United Kingdom. One of the most-cited is a 2005 study conducted by Dr. Glenn Wilson, then a psychiatrist at King’s College, London University. Wilson found that workers who are distracted by phone calls, emails and text messages suffer a greater loss of IQ than a person smoking marijuana. His approach included 80 clinical trials, each time monitoring workers’ IQ throughout the day. Wilson’s work revealed that multitasking could temporarily decrease IQ by an average of 10 points (15 for men and 5 for women) — equivalent to missing a whole night’s sleep.