Why is it so hard to stop multi-tasking and focus on one thing at a time?

And why do people staunchly defend their need to multi-task?

‘I won’t get as much done and I have so much to do’

Reason Number 1 – You’re An Addict

According to neuroscientist and New York Times best-selling author Daniel Levitin, “Multitasking creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation.” So we get addicted to the rush of switching tasks, which means we lose focus.

Upshot:

a) Don’t be so hard on yourself

b) Know you are probably making excuses for your multi-tasking behaviour because you’re addicted to it!

Reason Number 2 – You’re Being Distracted All The Time

Focussing on one thing at a time makes sense, but there are always bleeps and other notifications taking your attention from the task at hand.

  • Think you can’t possibly manage without them?
  • Need some more motivation to avoid distractions and turn off notifications?
  • Wondering why you can’t manage to get stuff done?

A study conducted in the University of California discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to refocus on a task after an interruption. With all of the distractions in our lives, no wonder our brains are fried by the end of the day with very little ticked of the ‘todo’ list!

Idea: Maybe just turn everything off for at least half an hour and see how you go with your most important task.

These are just a couple of reasons why we keep on multi-tasking. And here are a couple more…

Reasons We Shouldn’t Multi-Task

1) A Downward Spiral…

Imagine this… you spend the day, or a good part of it running around doing a dozen things at once, flitting from one thing to another ‘successfully’ multi-tasking. An achievement right? But…

  • you reach for the sweet/caffeinated/unhealthy stuff without thinking,
  • you don’t get to the gym,
  • you stay up later than expected and maybe have wine,
  • or you grab a takeaway for dinner instead of that fresh meal you were going to prepare.

Any of these sound familiar? According to neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, when discussing multi-tasking: “One of the first things we lose is impulse control. This rapidly spirals into a depleted state in which, after making lots of insignificant decisions, we can end up making truly bad decisions about something important.” 

2) Running On Empty

Are you always filled with energy and ready to take on the next thing with enthusiasm and joy? Or are you just a little bit tired a lot of the time and ploughing on through because, well, you know, no-one else will do it for you?

Maybe it’s the constant multi-tasking?

Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin: “Asking the brain to shift attention from one activity to another causes the prefrontal cortex and striatum to burn up oxygenated glucose, the same fuel they need to stay on task. And the kind of rapid, continual shifting we do with multitasking causes the brain to burn through fuel so quickly that we feel exhausted and disoriented after even a short time. We’ve literally depleted the nutrients in our brain.”

Multitasking drains your energy and overworks your brain. When you focus on one thing at a time you feel a much greater sense of achievement and the motivation and enthusiasm to get on with the next project. That’s not science (I don’t think) but it is my experience of uni-tasking (my new word for not multi-tasking).

3) The Stress Factor

Stress isn’t just caused by the huge number of tasks we have to do, it’s caused by how we do them, i.e. multi-tasking. Various studies have shown that when we attempt to multi-task our brain produces more cortisol, that’s ‘the stress hormone’. Stress, anxiety about all the things we have to do, and mental fatigue all add to the cycle of becoming more stressed.

Got a feeling that you should stop multi-tasking and attempt more focus on one thing at a time? Take a look my top tips on how to do just that.

Helen Leathers

Womens Coach, Trainer, Speaker & Author

Combining a spiritual outlook, a pragmatic approach, and a sense of humour Helen seeks to help you to understand, accept and develop your true self and be the best person you can be – flaws and all.