Life is hectic. In our faced paced, competitive, overstimulated, high stressed lives, it becomes essential to be efficient , productive and focused on the many tasks at hand ,while trying to balance responsibilities towards our health, our family and our relationships. Time is at a premium. Time is finite. We only get 168 hours a week but we have the ability to chose how we allocate it. Just because we are all busy doesn’t mean we are necessarily being productive.
In todays culture, it has become a considereable attribute if you can successfully multitask. Consider the working mother who can raise her children, drive car pools, buy groceries, work 9 to 5 , plan meetings, make dinners and still have time to be involved in community programs. Now consider a working father who holds down a day job while studying at night and has to care for elderly parents and make time for his childrens extracuricular activities. Full plates all around. All the while trying to remain in constant communication through endless daily texting and emails.Being successful is not about doing many things simultaneously, it is all about the approach. It’s about the effectiveness of the effort.
In order to leverage the efforts , it becomes necessary to understand how the brain functions. The higher evolved brain is made up of the prefrontal neocortex. This center is for focusing on higher level decision making ,problem solving and planned ,rational thought. It is where your conscious, mental attention to detail is alerted and it has an enormous energy demand to keep it running at an optimum.
The midbrain is made up of the hippocampus and substantia nigra.. These centers are for organizing and retrieving stored facts and ideas. It is also where are reward centers are. Fun novelty, distractions are processed here . Whenever we chose an outlet for stress, we raise our dopamine levels by stimulation of the midbrain through junk foods, video games ,TV ,texting, internet surfing etc. It is also the source of cognitive mental disruption. Pursuing these immediate gratifying behaviors uses a different part of the brain and therefore competes with the higher brains attempt to stay on task. In short. when it comes to cognitive tasks, don’t mix business with pleasure.
Let me illustrate this. When you are concentrating on learning new information while the TV is on and your smart phone alerts you to an incoming text message, your brain shifts from higher brain center processing to novelty reward brain center processing. Learning is effectively achieved through hardwiring nerve connections in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus .These connections can only form successfully if they are repeated and practiced continuously and not distracted and shifted by novelty, reward seeking activities. Studys further show that shifting tasks drains the glucose levels in the brain faster than staying on a single task.
Multitasking can also cause cognitive overload if you are attempting to solve multiple problems at once. This can raise anxiety and cause elevated levels of cortisol. Stress hormones will stimulate more primitive brain centers in the amygdyla which serve to protect the body. This results in fear and avoidance which ultimately lowers productivity. It can also decrease impulse control and lead to faulty choices in decision making.
To summarize There are 3 reasons to avoid multitasking
1. Compromises the higher brains ability to hardwire the nerve connections needed to learn a single task. The nutrient levels in the brain are depleted faster when constantly shifting tasks
2. Causes cognitive mental distraction by creating competing neural addictive pursuits of novelty reward midbrain activity. This occurs commonly when engaging in social media ,texting and watching tv
3. Causes increased stress and anxiety which disrupts cognitive function and shifts brain in more primitive fear and avoidance behaviors.
So there is a solution to this need to get as many things done while maintaining the integrity of the neural connections of higher cognitive learning. It may appear as if one is multitasking but in fact it isn’t. The secret is to stay mentally focused on one single cognitive task. Learn and complete one cognitive action at a time. This will lower the cognitive load and mentally enable one to focus on the next TO DO task on the list.
However , you may choose to combine this with an automatic ,non cognitive activity and now you can do two things at once without compromise. For example, you can run on a treadmill while learning the words to a new song or memorize a presentation while brushing your teeth. The trick is to deliberately plan and select a noncompeting, ,minimal brain activity that you have sufficiently mastered. That’s why it is always worthwhile developing proper, productive lifestyle habits that can be easily performed in conjunction with a single, conscious cognitive task.

Can you think of a cognitive task that you could combine with a healthy automatic habit? Please share