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Multitasking Is Just ‘Doing Multiple Things Badly,’ Says Neuroscientist

By | Erin Bunch |

Every moment of my life is multitasked. When I’m writing, I’m also keeping an eye on my Slack notifications and periodically (read: every two minutes) checking in on my email. When I’m off the clock, there’s typically a podcast running as I cook, clean, shower, or am otherwise engaged in household or hygiene maintenance. When it’s finally time to just relax and watch TV, I’m catching up on texts and social media. Even my social life is multitasked; I like to hike or do FaceTime workouts with friends while we catch up. I go so far as to use my language-learning app while I’m doing my business in the bathroom! In my world, no moment is ever “wasted” by doing just one measly little thing at a time. So, I’m a total rockstar who’s crushing life, right?

Wrong. Apparently, this is a terrifically misguided strategy that is likely contributing to the overwhelming sense of stress, anxiety, and even depression that’s more or less become my baseline emotional state. That’s according to neurologist and neuroscientist Dean Sherzai, MD, PhD, our brains aren’t designed to multitask, and therefore they simply don’t. “There is no such thing as multitasking; there is such a thing as doing multiple things badly,” he’s says.

Even though our brains are quite complex and powerful—we’ve got 87 billion neurons!—our focus is linear, he explains. “When we do multitasking, basically what we’re doing is overwhelming a gateway [in the brain],” says Dr. Sherzai. He tells me to picture twenty things trying to fit into one narrow entry point at once or, say, someone with five kids, trying to take care of all of their needs simultaneously. “Multitasking implies that you can do multiple lines of action that are not connected or are marginally connected at the same time, which implies that you can maintain focus to have some degree of function in all of those. And that’s impossible.”

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