Researchers found that “those who are constantly breaking away from tasks to react to email or text messages suffer similar effects on the mind as losing a night’s sleep.”
Multitasking often feels like a necessary evil in a world that runs faster and faster without ever once tapping the brakes. We multitask our web browsers, having access to multiple tabs at the ready. We multitask our dating, swiping left and right to maximize our probability to find the right partner. We multitask our jobs, as employers ask more of employees while providing less resources.
And yet the majority of research indicates multitasking doesn’t help us get anything done. A study from the King’s Psychiatry College in London actually found that multitasking with electronic media reduced a person’s IQ by 10 points. That was more than twice the impact of smoking marijuana, researchers noted. They characterized this type of multitasking as constantly jumping between screens or responding immediately to notifications.
“Unchecked infomania reduces workers’ mental sharpness,” said Dr. Glen Wilson, the study’s lead psychologist. “Multitasking can be incredibly stressful on the brain; it impairs short-term memory and concentration. Those who are constantly breaking away from tasks to react to email or text messages suffer similar effects on the mind as losing a night’s sleep.”
And yes, the joke here is obvious — better to smoke a joint than check my phone, right? But before sparking up, you should know that the multitasking IQ loss only occurred in the short-term. According to researchers, once multi-tasking was removed from the picture, IQ test scores returned to normal.
Some people reading this might still believe they can multitask effectively. Unfortunately, those people are probably wrong. A 2010 study found only 2.5% of people were productive multitaskers. Some researchers suggest switching between tasks reduces your productivity by 40%. For the majority of us, our dumb human brains excel at monotasking, or doing one thing at a time.
The good news is methods and strategies exist to reduce the overwhelm of the modern world. Simple ideas like putting your phone on silent in the other room, or only checking email twice a day work well.
A 1980s time management method called the Pomodoro Technique has recently come into vogue once again. With this method, you choose one task and set a timer for 25 minutes. During this time, you can’t allow any distractions or breaks. After the 25 minutes is up, you take a 5 minute break.
Try the process next time you feel overwhelmed. After all your tasks are done, maybe then you can enjoy that marijuana. It certainly won’t hurt your IQ more than multitasking.