The dangers of chronic multitasking

Collage consisting of a phone with other elements behind it representing the chaos of multitasking.
Design: Abir Hossain

I'm sure, at this point, you've come across many articles listing a million reasons to avoid multitasking and citing peer-reviewed papers attesting to its flaws. What people don't often realise is exactly how inherent multitasking is to the internet-savvy generations and how difficult it is to resist doing something that one has become very used to doing.

Nonetheless, understanding the root of the problem helps fix most issues. So, why is it so hard to resist texting three people simultaneously while studying? Why is it nigh impossible to work at your desk without a podcast on?

It's a well-known fact that multitasking harms your attention span while diminishing your ability to do any one of the things you're doing all that well. However, when we put multitasking in the context of our uninhibited internet use is when the problem really arises.

Because we have become used to consuming bite-sized content, we feel restless whenever something demands more of our attention. We feel compelled to do something else on the side. And that's where one's unhealthy multitasking habits start. 

For this same reason, it's difficult for us to concentrate on any one task for too long. It's not really our fault that we check texts from multiple group chats while trying to memorise chemistry formulas or put on some music while finishing up our Math homework. While these distractions do hurt our memory retention and mental ability, since our attention is divided amongst multiple tasks, the bigger issue is that people don't immediately recognise it as multitasking. 

In retrospect, it seems obvious that making a habit out of multitasking will mess with our concentration in the long run. But at that moment people don't immediately make the connection. The subconscious inability to concentrate deteriorates without us ever realising it. That is until we look back one day and reflect on the reasons why it's so hard to sit down and perform a task for a prolonged period.

As great as the internet has been for information accessibility and convenient communication, it's failed us in many other ways. Students are most prone to its drawbacks, and arguably, the worst hit victims. Not only do we have greater screen time, but we're in more desperate need of the ability to concentrate. With a seemingly endless stream of things left to do, it's really frustrating when one can't focus despite wanting to. Not to mention most of us work the night before a deadline anyways. If even that bit of time isn't fully optimised, we're setting ourselves up for failure.

Because of just how accessible our distractions are, it's hard to stop multitasking by oneself. A deep-rooted tendency isn't fixed by someone just telling us to stop multitasking. Taking more actionable steps might be necessary to recover our attention spans. Spreading awareness among friends is a great way to keep oneself in check. Silencing notifications from social apps is also a good idea.

Small steps go further than poorly planned leaps in getting ourselves out of an addiction. Instead of having lofty aims to work for long hours, just aiming for 30 minutes of concentrated productivity might be the start most people need to make.

Rishi's chronic procrastination is ruining his life. Send him more things to procrastinate with at: [email protected]