Contributing Writer / Bart Maczuga

In this day and age, it’s easier than ever to multitask. You can reply to messages and listen to an audio book while you’re riding the train to work, catch up on reading the news over dinner, or watch TV while you’re running on the treadmill at the gym. When you’re a busy entrepreneur, it’s easy to get caught up in multitasking because you’ve got so much on your plate, it feels like there’s no other way to stay on top of things. Multitasking can make you feel like you’re getting lots of things done, but is it really helping you get more done?

It turns out, multitasking only creates the illusion of productivity. In fact, studies have shown that multitasking can actually have quite the opposite of its intended impact. In fact, even if you think you’re doing a great job of multitasking, you’re very likely not doing as good of a job as you think you are. Multitasking can actually reduce your productivity by up to 40%.

When you’re multitasking, what you’re really doing is constantly “task shifting.” When you shift tasks, it takes time for your mind to switch gears to focus on the new task, thereby slowing you down. So even though you think you’re being more productive, it’s actually going to take you longer to finish each of the tasks you’re trying to do. Depending on the amount of brainpower the tasks you’re dealing with require, it could take longer to shift between some tasks than it does between others. But if you spend a lot of time multitasking each day, you could be losing a great deal of your time just on switching between tasks. Instead, it’s better to focus on tasks in batches, like reading all of your email in one sitting or paying all of your bills at the same time, not going back and forth between the two. This way, your mind will be staying in one mindset the whole time.

Multitasking also reduces your ability to handle the tasks. You become much more likely to make simple mistakes you probably wouldn’t have made if you had only been focusing on one thing at a time. Your brain has a hard time doing two separate things at the same time and doing both of them equally well, so your cognition is going to be compromised somewhere. If you’re reading an e-mail while on a phone call, your brain will focus more on one of the tasks than the other and will either cause you to say, “I’m sorry, could you please repeat that,” to the person on the phone or have to re-read the e-mail later because there was something in it you couldn’t remember. A study by the University of London showed that multitasking can reduce a person’s ability to perform that task to the extent they were performing at the level of an average 8-year-old child.