Why You’re Addicted to Multitasking and How It Becomes a Bad Habit
Too many things to do and not enough time to do it.
You have a project you need to do, but there’s a new show you want to watch. How can you do both? Do them together, of course.
But study after study shows we’re actually less productive when we multitask. So why does it seem like we’re addicted to multitasking?
A big reason, experts find, is because it makes us feel good.
You’re Probably a Multitasker
You might be the type of person that watches TV, streams news, or listens to a podcast while you do something else.
Or maybe have your phone next to you, or have browser tabs open to social media. Just in case you get a text or a notification on Facebook.
The truth is, we love to multitask. And research from Ohio State University digs into why we insist on doing it, even in the face of evidence that it’s not that effective.
The study followed students over 4 weeks. They tracked what tasks they were doing at random times, as well as their motivations for doing them.
Multitasking Gives Us An Emotional Boost
First, researchers came to the same conclusion as previous research. Students were less effective when they multitasked.
Secondly, they found that students felt better about their work when they did multitask. However, the reason why they felt better was because the other “task” was entertaining. It would boost a student’s mood.
At first glance, it may not seem like a big deal. But the students were incorrectly attributing the emotional boost from multitasking to how well they were studying or working.
One researcher stated:
….they seem to be misperceiving the positive feelings they get from multitasking. They are not being more productive — they just feel more emotionally satisfied from their work.
How Multitasking Becomes a Problem Habit
You can begin to see why multitasking is so popular. And not just for students.
Whenever students needed to work or study, the positive feelings from multitasking would make them more likely to do it again in the future. This starts to create a habit:
We found what we call a dynamical feedback loop. If you multitask today, you’re likely to do so again tomorrow, further strengthening the behavior over time.
So this starts to create a problem habit. Have you ever heard someone say they can’t work or study without some type of noise in the background? The experts agree it’s an issue:
This is worrisome because students begin to feel like they need to have the TV on or they need to continually check their text messages or computer while they do their homework.
It’s not helping them, but they get an emotional reward that keeps them doing it.
Don’t Be Fooled
Of course a mood boost isn’t the only reason why people are addicted to multitasking. But the study points out why it’s such a popular habit.
We get bored easily and it’s not always easy to focus. We may even unconsciously distract ourselves to increase feelings of pleasure. With technology, that’s easy to do.
Sure, it feels like we get more done. But those are just our positive emotions lying to us.
If we truly want to be more productive, we need to learn to manage our technology and entertainment distractions.