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Here’s something to remove from your resume (or stop looking for in candidates): “good multi-tasker.” Turns out there’s no such thing.

Researchers say the human brain is, in fact, not capable of doing multiple things at the same time. At least not quickly or well. Multi-tasking can make you mentally dull and, ultimately, perhaps even damage your brain. So we all need to re-organize how we approach our work day, in order to be as productive and effective as we think we are now. That goes for activities outside work, too.

Reality check

A Stanford University study concluded that people who process electronic information one thing at a time are able to pay attention, remember things and switch from one task to another more competently than those who routinely multi-task. Furthermore, they noted that your perceived skill at multi-tasking is an illusion. Hard core multi-taskers have more disorganized thoughts and are unable to filter out extraneous information because they cannot focus. Your brain isn’t built that way.

So instead of doing one thing well, you’re doing two or more things poorly. And it gets worse.

The University of London conducted a cognition study and discovered multi-tasking actually lowers your IQ – so much that the reduced ability to perform cognitive tasks equated to staying up all night or smoking marijuana. For men in the study, mental acuity dropped to the level of an average 8-year-old. Ouch.

And there’s more.

At the University of Sussex in England, a study used MRI scans to look at the brains of people who spent various lengths of time using multiple electronic devices simultaneously – for instance, watching TV and texting. The anterior cingulate cortex (the part of your brain that regulates cognitive and emotional control) was less dense in high multi-taskers. As a result, researchers suggest “the way we are interacting with the devices might be changing the way we think and these changes might be occurring at the level of brain structure.”

 

What does this mean?

TalentSmart, a company that produces emotional intelligence (EQ) tests, has studied more than a million people. They found high EQs in 90% of top performers. Multi-tasking can make you a less-than-top performer, especially at work where Self-Awareness and Social Awareness are two crucial EQ skills, according to TalentSmart.

These conclusions aren’t even new, we have simply been ignoring them. Back in 2006, the American Psychological Association said mental “juggling” slows cognitive performance, even if you’re switching between two tasks you know well. That’s because your brain has to regroup each time you switch. You may lose only a split-second depending on the complexity of the tasks, but that lost time adds up.

In fact, the APA quotes one study that reported these mini-mental blocks created by multi-tasking can rob you of 40% of your productive time.

And while a split-second doesn’t seem like a big deal, you also have to consider the circumstances, because multi-tasking happens in our personal lives as well. If you’re driving and you decide to send a text at the same time, the split-second it takes you to mentally switch could literally kill you. We’ve all seen stories just like that on the news, haven’t we?

The one thing you can count on in any real-life work situation is interruptions. And, boy, is that annoying. You lose your train of thought and can’t remember where you left off. When you multi-task, you are deliberately interrupting yourself. That simply does not make sense.

It’s time to stop taking pride in multi-tasking and ask yourself whether you wouldn’t rather be known as intelligent, capable and effective.

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