Multitasking Skills And It’s Effects On The Brain

Multitasking is admirable by everyone in your space because it lets you do more with little time. But your multitasking skills could be killing your brain.

See this video on multitasking by BBC Ideas

Our ancestors multitasked within the necessities available at their time, but we live in a time where the opportunity and temptation to multitask abounds.

Multitaskers have always been regarded as smart people as they can complete multiple tasks at the same time. But trouble brewing!

Humans cannot actually do without multitasking skills. The perceived and established negative effects of combining tasks depends on how tasking the task is to the brain.

Meaning of multitasking

Meaning of multitasking skills in our daily lives
Multitasking damages the brain and impairs learning

In human affairs, tasks combination is the act of performing several activities at once, such as writing a document or replying to emails while participating in a teleconference.

From this definition, juggling tasks has to do with trying to accomplish two things at a time. It means given attention to two task at the same time either to beat time of for whatever reasons

Multitasking can mean all of the following:

  • Handling more than one task simultaneously
  • Switching or going back and forth from tasks
  • Having a mental exercise while at a task

It’s quite a nice ability and everybody might hail you for the feat. But not the best for your brain.

We multitask consciously or unconsciously in our day-to-day activities trying to beat time and deadlines – having breakfast while checking emails, attending to the baby while writing a report, taking a call while driving, switching from window to window on your computer, watching television and talking to a friend at the same time.

It is obvious that it is not a fun task while at it, in fact, the average human struggles to keep focus while juggling tasks which shows it is possible but will result in bad output.

Related: Why Women’s Intuition Is More Powerful Than That Of Men

The result cannot be compared when you give all of your focus to one task at a time.

People who attend to one task at a time are more productive and prompter with information than those who combine tasks, who on the other hand seem to be confused because they jumble information in their brains and struggle to reproduce them.

It all screams one thing, disorganization, which should be handled by the brain.

This buttresses the fact that the human brain is not good at handling many tasks at the same time and when you force it, your brain bears the brunt while your productivity suffers. This is revealed by a Stanford University study.

Is your multitasking skills something to be proud of?

While it might be tempting to believe that juggling tasks is a special skill, the researchers compared groups of people hinging on their ability to multitask and their notion that it improves their performance.

It was discovered that heavy multitaskers who feel that it boosts their performance were actually worse at combining tasks compared to those who do single tasks at a time.

There are combination of tasks that does not require much effort like singing in the bathroom while bathing or doing laundry, eating and answering a phone etc.

These combinations have so been mastered by humans that we unconsciously multitask without any effort.

Also, it almost doesn’t have any negative effect because they might not seem to be much of tasking as a result of perfect mastery and so do not give the brain much stress to have them done.

However, there are other situations that can impress heavily on the brain and might be impossible to perform simultaneously.

How productive is the multitasking brain?

Multitasking skills impedes learning and productivity

We may think we are doing ourselves a favour by knocking off dual projects at a time and increasing productivity, but many research studies have shown that it in fact affects the brain negatively.

The multitasking brain can be pretty productive in less demanding tasks and we feel like the superhuman but is incapable of completing demanding tasks that require maximum concentration.

When task juggling is employed in such, there are bound to be accidents and mistakes.

According to the report, multitasking slows competence and amplifies the frequency of mistakes.

This is a result of a lack of focus and changes in the way the brain works. During multitasking, the brain is in overdrive and tries to organize so much information at a time with minimal error, but there is always an error.

ALSO READ: Is social media and smartphones making people lie more?

I do not see any sense in getting things done quickly and spending much more time to fix the mistakes. It saps energy, dissipates resources, and slows productivity.

Scientists hope to uncover new information on the limitations of the brain and implications as regards the busy lifestyles of humans by studying the brain of multitaskers at work.

The brain split in halves by multitasking

The prefrontal cortex part of the brain springs to action when you need to pay attention or focus.

This area is made of the right and left sides and is the brain’s motivational area that helps it process and carry out tasks.

When focused on a single task, both sides work together to deliver quality concentration which equates to quality tasks without errors and confusion.

But when tasks are combined, the right and left parts of the brain handle the tasks independent of each other, causing disorganization and confusion.

ALSO READ: How To Improve Your Intuition And Attune With The Infinite

This is why it is said that one cannot be a master of all trades and one cannot serve two masters at a time.

There must be impartiality that might result in conflicts that would render everything useless at the same time.

Multimedia multitasking and distractibility

Doing one thing at a time improves concentration

One unanswered question that has been asked by many is whether juggling tasks brings about poor productivity caused by weak cognitive ability or the other way round.

Does media multitasking skills cause people to be distracted or people who are distracted easily are more likely to fare well in media multitasking?

Researchers disclosed that reducing how we media-multitask would reduce how distracted we can be in real-world situations notwithstanding the causal direction by taking care of either the symptom or the cause.

Women multitasking more than men

According to a study, women are really more adept at multitasking than males, at least in some circumstances.

In tests conducted by UK psychologists, men were slower and less organized than women when moving between tasks quickly.

In the study, which was published in the journal BMC Psychology, it was found that both sexes had difficulty balancing their priorities, although males suffered more generally.

It reads: “Now, the query is, “Why?” And does it apply to all forms of multitasking or just certain circumstances?”

The research posits glaring facts on the subject as regards the argument on the best multitaskers between men and women.

According to co-author Dr. Gijsbert Stoet of the University of Glasgow, if men actually are slower than women, it could set off an unpredictable expectation on how the workplace is set up.

The issue of accomplishing many tasks simultaneously has become more crucial in the workplace, but interrupting the workflow irritates incredibly.

He told BBC News, “It’s possible that guys are more affected by this continual flipping.”

Previous research on gender and multitasking has produced a wide range of results.

Women beat males in an experiment is a study conducted in China. But men may actually be better at juggling tasks when tasks that involve reasonable space are involved, according to research conducted in Sweden.

Dr. Stoet compared men and women multitasking where a lot need to be achieved quickly but not simultaneously.

These tasks included attending meetings and attending to emails and other office assignments, just also like preparing meal at home, keeping an eye on the kids and also taking a call.

Initially, they used a computer test that alternated between counting and shape-recognition tasks to compare the same number of men and women.

When tasks were completed one at a time, men and women performed equally. However, there was a noticeable difference when the jobs were switched together.

As the switching accelerated, both men and women slowed down and made more errors.

However, men responded substantially more slowly than women – they did so in 77% versus 69% longer.

See more report on this by BBC.

Multitasking in teenagers

Heavy multitasking skills can be very detrimental to teenagers with its negative impacts. This is because at that age, the brain is still developing and forming important neural connections.

Chronically dividing attention and constantly being distracted would have a long-term unpleasant impact on how the connections form.

Though this area requires more research, it is believed that teenagers who are particularly involved in media multitasking skills would be more vulnerable to any negative effects of the act.

ALSO READ: Self Management Skills, Definition And How To Stay Organized

This research believes that the damage done to the brain function by trying to handle tasks simultaneously is temporary and can reverse when the multitasker becomes a monotasker.

As more research and study is expected to clearly determine the effects of combining tasks on the brain, what remains constant is that it predisposes people to danger and has negative brain effects.  

A neuroscientist, Kep Kee Loh explained it this way, in his own words:

“I feel that it is important to create an awareness that the way we are interacting with the devices might be changing the way we think and these changes might be occurring at the level of brain structure.”

Kep Kee Loh

Multitasking is a myth

Women multitask more

We humans can only be monotaskers – meaning that our brain can only focus and attend to a task at a time, a neuropsychologist, Cynthia Kubu, Ph.D. reveals.

She went ahead to buttress that humans actually are incapable of multitasking, rather, we switch in and out of tasks with little focus and deep concentration.

Another study found out that only about 2% of humans can multitask effectively while the rest can attempt but can’t successfully do that.

Multitaskers in a firm can be pampered as possessing a special skill. Who wouldn’t like someone who makes more money or relieves their troubles even at the tasker’s detriment?

How multitasking damages the brain

Before now, it was believed that cognitive issues that pointed to juggling tasks were temporary and would repair when the individual stops combining tasks. But researchers are saying otherwise.

Sussex University researchers compared the amount of time spent by people on different devices at once such as texting and watching TV to MRI scans of their brains.

It was found that people who are combine tasks a lot showed less brain mass in the anterior cingulate cortex which is the region that is responsible for empathy and cognitive control, including emotions.

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: Taking a Break in a Relationship: Is it Important?

Though further research is needed for clarity on if multitasking skills can cause physical brain damage or if it is existing brain damage that enhances people’s multitasking, it’s certain that combining tasks is not your good friend.

According to a neuroscientist, Kep Kee Loh, the head of the study,

“It is important to create awareness that our interaction with devices might be changing how we think and the changes might be happening at the level of brain structure.”

Prolonged media-multitasking activity is linked to smaller gray matter density in the anterior cingulate cortex

Media-multitasking is the concurrent consumption of multiple media forms which has been on the rise since the advent of especially smartphones.

It has become prevalent in the society of today and is linked to negative psychological and cognitive problems.

People who engage in heavy media-multitasking perform very poorly on cognitive tasks and at the same time show poor social intelligence and exhibit more socio-emotional difficulties.

The neural processes linked with media-multitasking are yet unexplored, but the present study reveals a clear relationship between repeated media-multitasking activities and brain structure alteration.

ALSO READ: Beliefs you won’t be needing as your life progresses

A study that tested about a million people found that 90% of senior performers have high EQs. If multitasking damages the brain part called the anterior cingulate cortex which is a key brain region, then it lowers the IQ in the process.

The multitasking activity is managed in the brain by the mental executive functions which control and process other cognitive activities. It determines when and how certain tasks are carried out.

It passes through two processes – goal shifting which is a decision of preferring one thing against another. The second process – role activation – is changing from the rules of the first task to the rules of the second.

Basically, switching may happen in a few seconds and so does not incur much time loss immediately, but when it is done repeatedly, it becomes a concern.

This could not be a big problem in little tasks like watching television while eating, but it would be a serious danger while driving.

Negative effects of multitasking

Doing multiple activities at a time hampers efficiency
Multitasking diminishes memory

1. Multitasking skills impairs learning

The more one multitasks, the less he accomplishes his goals. Humans slowly lose the capacity to concentrate enough to understand especially, complex subjects. It therefore impairs learning or prolongs it.

As observed by Dr. Kubu, “if we are constantly applying multitasking skills in our activities, we don’t tune out the rest that happens around us so we can deeply concentrate and learn.”

It is observable also with school children who multitask take longer to complete their homework and have lower or average grades.

2. It is distracting

People who juggle tasks are easily distracted than people who have full concentration on their task.

This is true when you agree that jugglers have the habit of constantly refocusing on new task which is itself a distraction from the original assignment.

Again, they may have problems focusing even when they are monotasking. Another research also shows that while there is a connection linking combination of tasks and distraction, the connection is not as strong as originally presumed and varies from person to person.

3. Slows memory

When we multitask, we tend to work slower and sluggishly. It leads to what is known by psychologists as “task switch costs”, which means the negative effect that comes from switching from task to task.

The increased mental demand that is caused by jumping from one task to another is responsible for the task switch cost.

The brain loves to be exercised on a particular thing at a stretch than switching that causes strain and confusion.

ALSO READ: The Increasing Bad Effects Of Impatience And Irritability And How To Curb It

This is also true considering that each time we refocus, it takes a bit of time to acclimatize with the point where we were before we left the task, and this singular feeling is tiring.

It is tiring because the brain is not excited anymore to give its best on the task. That is why at refocusing, a multitasker fidgets momentarily before gaining confidence to continue.

4. Multitaskers are always prone to mistakes

Due to distractions and shallow levels of focus, a multitasker is very much prone to mistakes. Most times the mistakes are discovered at the later stage and would cause a delay in the delivery of the job.

Students who multitask consciously or unconsciously tend to have lower grades. Adults also experience poor performance while juggling tasks and they are more likely to make more serious mistakes especially while driving or operating machinery.

5. Can lead to brain damage

Repeated heavy multitasking can lead to dangerous patterns in the brain that would affect its optimum performance especially as it concerns cognition and keeping tabs on information.

Brain structures are strengthened by a uniform kind of task stretched uninterruptedly.

Switching back and forth from task to task defeats that, which depends on repeated dangerous impressions and time to manifest.

6. Slows efficiency and mental performance

The efficiency of the brain to perform a task is dependent on focus and concentration which are also necessary for mental performance.

A surgeon no matter how grounded he might be on the job needs to focus on each case. The fingers, eyes, and mind need to be in harmony. Any kind of combination can spell danger.

Combining tasks can reduce efficiency and performance by 40% which equals about 3.2 hours per day.

Lack of efficiency can cause mistakes and impedes creative thought which is essential for a seamless performance.

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: Beliefs you won’t be needing as your life progresses

Earl Miller, a renowned neuroscientist at MIT posits that toggling between tasks requires a series of significant shifts in mental energy and could take about 15 minutes before a refocus stabilizes. Each shift takes away a significant time and incurs costs.

7. Shields focus and concentration

Another neuroscientist in New York and an author, Daniel Levitin confirms that multitasking skills triggers a dopamine-addiction feedback situation, paying back the brain for shifting focus on the lookout for external triggers.

He suggests that the region of the brain responsible for focus and concentration is easily distracted and needs an absolute high level of concentration to stay undistracted.

So, each time one is distracted by his phone or takes a call, he trains his brain to lose focus and remain distracted.

It becomes very difficult to break the cycle of distraction as it becomes normal to be distracted as a result of the dopamine rush from switching tasks and shifting focus.

8. Lowers the intelligent quotient (IQ)

Multitasking slows performance

Another research approached the subject from another angle of lowering the human IQ apart from slowing you down.

A University of London study discovers that participants that multitasked at a cognitive task had a decline in IQ score that resembled what was expected when marijuana is consumed or the effect experienced when stayed awake at night.

It stressed that multitasking dropped men’s IQ to that of an 8-year-old child.

It could be observed that multitasking in a gathering makes a person absent-minded to a task while appearing confused at another and this indicates low social awareness, an emotional intelligence (EQ) component that is necessary for success wherever.

9. A multitasking mind is irritable and impatient

A mind that loses focus because of pressure and stress would become irritable and impatient in no time, which if continued for long can result in cortisol secretion which is a hormone responsible for anxiety.

In my former company where employees were allocated targets each day to be eligible for the daily payment; employees were always under pressure to meet the target.

This made them prone to anger and always in a hurrying mode.

A lot of negative results were experienced ranging from damages, accidents, violence, machine manipulation, and production of substandard products.

They tried to cut corners to reach the target. The company discovered this and stopped it immediately.

10. Kills creativity and innovation

Earl Miller went ahead to warn that multitasking minds could lose grip of the power of their minds to be creative and find new ways to do things.

Innovative thinking thrives in an environment of a calm mind and uncluttered thinking.

One cannot have the time and freedom to have deep thoughts when the brain is exerted with constant switching which encourages shallow thought patterns that do not break the surface.

Innovation and creativity are not born of shallow thoughts but from the bottom of the mind where serenity is resident.

11. Multitasking Could reduce emotional intelligence

Travis Bradberry, the author of “The Emotional Intelligence Quick Book” explained that emotional intelligence is a common trait of 90% of high performers in different fields.

He suggests that having too many tasks burdened on the mind could damage the anterior cingulate cortex responsible for cognition and emotions.

In addition, self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, and social management which are the components of emotional intelligence could diminish significantly as a result of repeated multitasking.

12. Multitaskers make poor decisions

Irritability, impatience, fatigue, and stress, can trigger poor judgment of situations and lead to poor and uninformed decisions.

Decision-making requires a sound and deep understanding of situations or problems that a multitasking mind is bereft of.

Impulsive behaviour and bad decision are inseparable. When impulse control is lost, then expect uninformed decisions that will destroy productivity.

More findings on multitasking

In a study conducted in the way back, 2009 at Stanford University, a researcher Clifford Nass found that heavy multitaskers were studied and were not asked to do anything at the level of multitasking skills they were used to. Their cognitive ability was impaired.

It was discovered that this group was actually terrible at combining tasks than those who preferred one task at a time.

The bragging multitaskers performed worse as a result of the poor organization of thoughts and time while struggling to filter information in their brains.

They were slow, confused, and had momentary memory loss.

However, the researchers were asked if the damage to the brain was permanent or stopping multitasking would reverse the impairment.

Nass suggested that while a lot of more studies are needed, evidence at the moment suggests that people would perform better when they stop multitasking.

Breaking the multitasking habit

It is always advisable to break bad habits which could pose a health problem sooner or later.

It is possible to make changes that increase productivity and it is a win-win for you. It is quite easy to break the habit of multitasking if you are determined.

Some people are deep into multitasking skills that they hardly differentiate the difference and do not know if they multitask or not. It is going to be a deliberate effort and would require maximum consciousness.

When you find yourself combining tasks, an assessment should be taken of the various tasks you are trying to deliver or accomplish then prioritize in order of importance. This will help you become organized.

Juggling different things without a particular order might actually be inducing you to multitask. Staying organized is key.

If you must work on multiple things at the same time, let them be things that won’t take much time.

ALSO READ: Review of ‘Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ’

The 20 minutes rule is handy when you are trying toA

Divide your tasks into bits or put similar tasks together and set a particular time to handle them.

If possible, resist the impulse to always check your email or silence your notification when in a very absorbing task that requires absolute focus.

Cultivate the habit of solitude. Always make out time to be alone and just relax and indulge in yourself.

Relaxing by yourself has a way of relaxing your mind and entire being. The refreshing feeling you get after is similar to when you wake from sleep.

Make a resolution of facing one task at a time. It’s a sure way to be organized and avoid confusion in multitasking.

Examples of multitasking

The most typical instances of multitasking in both personal and professional contexts are as follows:

  • Talking on the phone and operating a vehicle
  • Greeting someone while on the phone
  • Teaching young people in a classroom while assigning tasks
  • Multiple individuals are being prioritized at the emergency room.
  • Providing food for consumers while attending to further requests from other customers
  • Emailing while at a meeting
  • Observing the conduct of children while operating a bus
  • Preparing dinner and assisting children with their homework
  • Working out while watching TV
  • Consuming food while reading a book
  • While working on one project, another is being started
  • Entering data into the computer system and conversing with customers on the phone
  • Preparing a number of meals at once
  • Directing aircraft and keeping an eye on air traffic patterns


Humans cannot do without multitasking skills. The key is to minimize or avoid entirely multitasking situations that are not life-threatening.

It is better to focus energy on a particular task and deliver it entirely than to switch from task to task and unwittingly harm your brain while slowing productivity.

Staying organized and allocating time to tasks when they accumulate helps to reduce multitasking.

Also, silencing your phone and taking and being wholistically conscious and deliberate about minimizing the combination of tasks will go a long way to breaking free from the ghostly multitasking skills.



Multitasking Effects, Productivity and Brain Health

Multitasking Damages your Brain and Career

Thinking, Sensing And Behaving/Thinking And Awareness


Website | + posts

A Personal Development Content Creator and an author. I write about life ethics and love to document and share life hacks and experiences of people to help others make good life decisions.

Every content published on The Conducts Of Life is well-reviewed by experienced professionals in the field. Contents are fact-checked for accuracy, relevance, and timeliness and we include links to sources at the bottom of every article for more insights.

Leave a comment