busy female talking on smartphone and checking messages during work in contemporary office
In the Studio

The Truth About Multi-tasking And Creativity

Back in 2016, I was juggling house viewings, packing to move, my business, blogging and time in my studio. And I managed, not because I’m superwoman, but because I refuse to multi-task.

Yup. You read that right. When I catch myself running around like the proverbial headless chicken, I stop myself and re-focus. I rely on lists to keep track of everything I need to do and then I do…one…thing…at a…time.

Here’s what I know for sure:

Multi-tasking makes me LESS productive

It is physically impossible for anyone’s brain to hold more than one thought at a time. We simply switch between thoughts so quickly that we fool ourselves.

According to Dr. Susan Weinschenk, what you’re really doing is task switching.  But task switching is expensive. It can reduce your productivity by as much as 40%!

(With one exception. If it’s a physical task you’re familiar with, you can think and perform at the same time. Like walking and talking. Good thing!)

I don’t know about you but 40% is a big number to me. The time it takes to switch adds up, especially as tasks become more complex. We also tend to make more errors when we lose focus. (Been there. Done that.)

A little boredom might be a good thingWhich means – Multi-tasking lowers the quality of my work

When multi-tasking goes up, we end up backtracking and correcting a lot. Mistakes creep in. We forget details. We miss things, like the guy in the photo right here.

And if you think that young people have somehow got this handled, well…not so much. A study at Stanford University showed students remembered less, which sounds to me like a big problem in university!

In fact, the study went so far as to call them “suckers for irrelevancy”.

Multi-tasking hurts my brain

A study at the University of Sussex revealed that people who regularly multi-task have lower brain density in the region of their brain responsible for empathy, cognitive control and emotional control.

A University of London study even found that multi-tasking while attempting to do cognitive tasks lowered IQ scores as much as if the participants had used marijuana or stayed up all night. Multi-tasking men lowered their scores to the average range of an 8-year-old child.


Multi-tasking reduces my ability to make connections which impacts my creativityLeft and Right Brain

That one fact alone should made me kick the multi-tasking habit.

If you’re looking to be more creative, learning to focus your attention helps you make connections between seemingly unrelated ideas or objects. Lose the ability to see connections and creativity suffers.

So, what’s the “fix”?

1. Admit you have a problem.

If you want to stop multi-tasking the first step is to accept you are a multi-tasker. If this sounds a little like a 12 Step Program you’re not far wrong. Those studies I’ve been looking at indicate we can become addicted to the constant buzz of activity that multi-tasking gives us. A community of like-minded folks can help you kick the habit.

2. Use concentrated time.

I use blocks of time where I commit to a single task. I still do multiple tasks in a day. Just not all at the same time.

For instance, while I was writing this post, I set a timer and had music playing in the background to keep me on track and focused. The timer meant I didn’t have to keep checking the clock plus it gave me a deadline so I buckled down and did the work.

3. Leave some “white space.”

Ever worked and worked on a problem only to have the solution come when you stopped thinking about it?

That’s how creativity works. Our brain needs quiet time to integrate information and make those connections but multi-tasking is the enemy of white space. Our pre-frontal cortex puts ideas together however, it can only work on one thing at a time.

So when you’re multi-tasking you get a busy signal from your cortex. There’s no bandwidth left to create with. Multi-tasking creates static in the white space our brains need to make creative connections. “

We all need time to do “nothing” as far as our brains are concerned. Not talking, not reading, not writing. Instead go for a walk; listen to music; stare into space. (Einstein went sailing.)

The more white space you give your brain the more creative you’ll be!

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