Reflections on the article, These Are the Long Term Effects of Multi-tasking.
If you are taking a mini-break from one of your multiple unfinished tasks in order to read this article, you just caused an “attention residue” buildup to occur. It is a kind of sluggishness that occurs in your thinking when you have moved on to a new task but not yet completed the original one. Amazingly, the results of cognitive tests on those who multi-tasked were similar to those who had smoked marijuana or stayed up all night. Research at the University of London that described these results also showed declines in IQ scores by as much as 15 points for multi-tasking men.
The brain’s processors, when pummeled with unfinished tasks, tend to linger on in some way on those undone projects. When a person is engaged in thoughtful work the nature of the brain is more like a grazing cow than like a busy bumble bee. The bottom line is that you don’t want to bounce around so much — you need to focus and be utterly in the moment to produce quality work.
So what does long-term bouncing around from task to task do? Ultimately it weakens the muscle that helps the brain focus.
Imagine if you joined a fitness center and you went from machine to machine never really getting a real workout ‒ you sit down, adjust the weights, breathe deeply, get psyched up, do one or two reps, get up, look around, get a drink, come back and stop at a different machine that looks more interesting! An hour later you have been on 13 different machines ‒ but what about your muscles? Since they have not been worked out to the point of fatigue they derived little benefit from such a “workout.” The brain is the same way. Multi-tasking has the appearance of work but little of substance comes out of it.
Beyond the efficiency of the work and the quality of the work, multi-tasking has an adverse effect on us as human beings with studies showing lower levels of controlled empathy and emotions in relationships. Personal presence ‒ the quality of being completely with others minus all distractions ‒ and empathy ‒ feeling what others are feeling ‒ are the glue to healthy relationships.
Richard Foster, in his book Celebration of Discipline, famously said in the opening line “Superficiality is the curse of our age.” We will fall prey to this curse as leaders if we do not engage in deeper reflection, writing, and relating to people. If at the end of the year you have built into a few people deeply, or have produced several articles of significance, or a written a book, or have built up one catalyzing ministry, you will have no regrets. But multi-tasking is the path to insignificant work, less empathetic relationships, and lower intelligence. Don’t be dumber. Repent!