5 ways multitasking strangles your productivity — and 3 apps that can help

multitasking-man-530284-edited.jpgThere you are, at the heart of the hurricane: Opportunities flying left and right, contracts collecting, phones buzzing, deals closing, checks to be cashed, leads to be followed.

It’s complete chaos, but hey, it’s just another day in the life of a broker! And you thrive on it. Because you know the secret, and it is multitasking.

When that multitasking mojo is flowing, not only do you do great things, but you feel great doing them. In fact right now you are sipping your morning coffee and updating Facebook and pulling up Apto and reading this article all at the same time. See? Productivity!

And really, you’re only reading this post just to prove how dead wrong it is. Because multitasking is the secret that’s going to make you millions. Right?


Not according to Eyal Ophir, the lead author of a Stanford study that did everything it possibly could to find the edge multitaskers had over monotaskers (also known as unitaskers).

The result?

“We kept looking for what [multitaskers] are better at, and we didn’t find it,” Ophir says.

Well, okay. Clearly Ophir wasn’t working with a great sample set. Because had you been part of that study, she’d be saying something different. Right?

Not according to Psychology Today. “Multitaskers basically get addicted to this dopamine rush which leads them to believe they are being effective when in fact they’re not,” writes Susanna M. Halonen. You think you’re doing great work while multitasking, and it genuinely feels like you are (thanks, dopamine!).

But you’re actually doing worse, and you don’t even know it.

In other words, everything you thought you knew about multitasking is wrong.

How multitasking is secretly sabotaging your life

According to Dan Harris, Author of 10% Happier, multitasking is nothing but an illusion of productivity.

“Multi-tasking is a computer-derived term,” he explains in a Big Think video. "Computers have many processors. We have only one processor. We literally, neurologically, cannot do more than one thing at a time."

"So every time you think you’re multitasking,” Harris says, "That’s a short way of saying you’re doing many things poorly."

Here’s what really happens when you think you’re multitasking:

  • You become a “sucker for irrelevancy,” according to Stanford professor Clifford Nass. Multitasking slashes your ability to concentrate and filter out irrelevant details, which clutters your thinking. “The high multitaskers are always drawing from all the information in front of them. They can’t keep things separate in their minds,” explains his colleague, Eyal Ophir.
  • You make more mistakes. Interruptions of even two or three seconds—like the time it takes you to check that text message—are enough to double the number of mistakes you make on a task, according to a 2014 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.
  • Your stress levels soar. Multitasking releases adrenaline, a stress hormone that can hurt your health in the long-term. Adrenaline is an evolutionary advantage designed to help us flee things like sabre-toothed tigers. It simply wasn’t designed to pump through your system all day long, which is what happens when you’re multitasking.
  • Your energy levels get fried.  People who work at their computers switch between applications (e.g. from email to Skype to Word) some 400 times per day, a University of California, Irvine study found. All this task-switching uses up your mental energy and leaves you feeling depleted. “After an hour or two of attempting to multitask, if we find that we’re tired and we can’t focus, it’s because those very neurochemicals we needed to focus are now gone,” neuroscientist Daniel Levitin says.
  • You may even harm client relationships. Think back to your last client meeting. Where did you put your phone? While it’s handy for checking incoming texts or quickly looking things up online, research shows that "just having a phone on the table is sufficiently distracting to reduce empathy and rapport between two people who are in conversation,” says psychologist Kelly McGonigal.

Three apps that can help

So what can be done? We live in a world that seems to prize multitasking, and technology often makes it worse, with its constant beeps and buzzes telling us we’ve got emails, texts, updates to tend to.

But the right tech can actually help you focus and prioritize. Here are are three apps to take you to monotasking bliss:

  • ShotClock helps you work through each of your tasks, one at a time.
  • Freedom blocks digital distractions so you can get real work done.
  • Focus@Will curates "scientifically-optimized music” to boost productivity.

You may also enjoy Infomagical, a 5-day series of experiments to help you "focus and discover the magic of clear thinking,” whether it's working on one thing at a time or consuming only what’s truly valuable to you.

This week, we dare you to give up your multitasking ways and give monotasking a shot. You’ve got nothing to lose, and research suggests it can even make you 50% quicker at finishing things—not bad!


Are you already a monotasker (or a multitasker coming to grips with this new reality)? Leave a comment and let us know how you get your best work done!
Topics: Best Practices Efficiency