When we think we do multiple things at once, our brains just switch between tasks at a cost. Every time we switch, we need to make a decision, and decision-making costs energy. Even seemingly small decisions like, “do I respond to this WhatsApp message now or later?” use up as much glucose in our brains as large decisions.
On top of that, we only have a limited number of decisions available per day. Once we use up our decisions during the day on irrelevant interruptions, we feel wiped out and frazzled in the evenings — this explains why sometimes having to choose what to make for dinner seems like a really difficult task. It also explains why we feel like we have been busy the whole day but did not actually achieve anything.
We confuse activity with productivity.
Multitasking results in human error reduces our long-term memory and prevents us from being focused and creative. This 'frazzledness' a state which I refer to in myself as squirrel brain, also explains why when we are distracted and multi-tasking we become highly vulnerable to social engineering, and manipulation, and end up clicking on those seemingly easy-to-spot phishing emails.
The bad news is that there is an addictive element to multitasking. Dopamine — our built-in rewards system – is a curious little hormone that drives us to check our emails or phones obsessively. It wants us to find out what is behind that red notification tick. Once we have responded to that message, we get another dopamine hit, because it feels like we have scratched something off our to-do list. This results in a dopamine addiction feedback loop and is why it is difficult to stop multitasking, despite knowing that it does not serve us.
Next, find out how to combat multi-tasking, increase your focus and productivity, and become more mindful.