Multitasking or brain damage?

Feb 23 2017. view 296

Today, whether it is a stay at home mother or a corporate ‘big-wig’, multitasking seems to be the order of the day, to get through jam-packed schedules, frequently interrupted by the unabated flow of information through smart gadgets owned by all. defines multitasking as: 

Multitasking, in a human context, is the practice of doing multiple things simultaneously, such as editing a document or responding to email while attending a teleconference. 

Born in Silicon Valley 

Researching on the subject, I found that multi tasking was a phrase first minted in Silicon Valley to describe a computer that could run more than one programme, simultaneously. In today’s context, man or machine, we’ve all become multitaskers. Some organizations take pride in extolling the virtues of multitasking and rewarding those magicians who can juggle more than one ball at a time! This spurs on these unsuspecting magicians to juggle more and more balls, while eating with their right toe and tap dancing on their left toe! Exaggeration? Yes – for a purpose. 

In his book : The Brain that Changes itself”, Dr Norman Doidge, MD states that “We often praise the ability to multitask. While you can learn when you divide your attention, divided attention does not lead to abiding change in your brain maps”. 


Research has shown that if multitasking is done on a long term basis, it could cause brain damage and trigger off physical problems. According to Dr. David Meyer, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan who specializes in cognition and perception, insists “Chronic multitasking over the years poses a  strong risk for ultimate brain damage. As we force ourselves to bounce from task to task we generate stress. Body and mind gear up to copy by releasing adrenaline. This powerful medicine is good for a crisis – but on an on going basis, it is hard on the brain and body “. Stress hormones diver energy from the part of the brain to prepare body for flight or flight response. If this becomes a daily part of our routine and lifestyle, it can have serious effects on memory and ultimately damage the brain area that releases this energy. 

As time goes by, multi taskers have difficulty concentrating, sleeping, eating and even watching a good television programme. In relaxed atmosphere. Their affected immune systems, will ultimate bring on a plethora of physical ailments, which they alone will need to cope with – if not, be a burden to their loved ones. 

Dr. Caroline Leaf, a Communications Pathologist and a neuro scientists has this to say. 

“One of the plagues of modern existence is multi tasking, which leads to the further plagues of “hurry sickness” and obsessive time management. The truth multi tasking is that it is a persistent myth. What we really do is shift our attention rapidly from task to task, resulting in two bad things :1) We don’t devote as much focused attention as we should to a specific activity or task or piece of information 2) We sacrifice the quality of our attention” and she aptly calls it “Milkshake-multitasking”. 

According to further research, multi tasking creates the following adverse effects on us all: 

· For students, an increase in multitasking predicted poorer academic results. 

· Multitaskers took longer to complete tasks and produced more errors. 

· People had more difficulty retaining new information while multitasking. 

· When tasks involved making selections or producing actions, even very simple tasks performed concurrently were impaired. 

· Multitaskers lost a significant amount of time switching back and forth between tasks, reducing  their productivity up to 40%. 

· Habitual multitaskers were less effective than non-multitaskers even when doing one task at any given time because their ability to focus was impaired. 

· Multitasking temporarily causes an IQ drop of 10 points, the equivalent of going without sleep for a full night. 

· Multitaskers typically think they are more effective than is actually the case. 

What seems to be the solution, then, to overcome this myth and live life in a focused manner? It is time for us to become mono-taskers again, in time to save our health, well-being and add quality to our relationships. Concentrating fully on the task at hand and switching, only when necessary for a deeper level of thought and function. 

Billion rupee question is, will today’s corporate world allow this? The next billion rupee question is, if today’s corporate world will not allow it, how will fathers and mothers who work for those corporate houses manage their homes – without the vicious cycle of ‘milkshake multitasking’?


Chandi Perera

Chandi switched careers from an airline to banking and enjoyed both. Writing is the passion that outlasted both those careers. Her themes for life are - believing, sharing, caring and learning. She can be contacted at


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