There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time.
That’s Lord Chesterfield. But don’t take his word for it. Scientific studies show that people who multitask are less accurate and/or less efficient, even as they make claims for themselves of “multi-productivity.”
Discussing multitasking with the New York Times in 2007, Jonathan B. Spira, an analyst at the business research firm Basex, estimated that extreme multitasking — information overload — costs the U.S. economy $650 billion a year in lost productivity.
In one recent study, Russell Poldrack, a psychology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that “multitasking adversely affects how you learn. Even if you learn while multitasking, that learning is less flexible and more specialized, so you cannot retrieve the information as easily.” His research demonstrates that people use different areas of the brain for learning and storing new information when they are distracted: brain scans of people who are distracted or multitasking show activity in the striatum, a region of the brain involved in learning new skills; brain scans of people who are not distracted show activity in the hippocampus, a region involved in storing and recalling information.
We have to be aware that there is a cost to the way that our society is changing, that humans are not built to work this way. We’re really built to focus. And when we sort of force ourselves to multitask, we’re driving ourselves to perhaps be less efficient in the long run even though it sometimes feels like we’re being more efficient.
If you think you are being more efficient by multitasking, you are involved in post-hoc rationalization and what amounts to self-deception. Read about it at the New Atlantis.