Multitasking is bad for your brain

By Dr Adam Fraser | Oct 13, 11 11:20 AM

Thought you were clever juggling all those different tasks at work? Well research says otherwise. If you keep it up you may just look like a clown!

When you run your own business you wear a number of hats and you are often jumping from one task to the next. New research tells us that the average person in an office environment is interrupted 11 times in an hour. Sounds a lot but when you think about it most people are constantly responding to their email alert, answering the phone, having people come into their office, suddenly remembering things that they should have done and dealing with noise from open plan offices.

What’s the fall out of all these interruptions? The fall out is a massive reduction in productivity and creativity. A study by Basex found that office distractions take up 2.1 hours of the average day (28%) with workers taking an average of 5 minutes to recover from a distraction and re-focus on the original task. In fact a recent study conducted by The Institute of Psychiatry at King's college London, compared the cognitive ability of people who had been multi tasking and people who had just smoked marijuana. Who came out on top? The drug affected workers.

The reason why is that multitasking is incredibly stressful on the brain, it impairs short term memory and concentration. The result is that the brain is left in an impaired state. This message is important for the leaders of the business. Due to distractions and interruptions people rarely get the time to think creatively and come up with innovative ideas. We need to minimise distractions and start to focus again.

A recent study by my company Dr Adam Fraser Pty Ltd showed that the top 10 distractions were:

  1. Emails – office alert and volume of emails
  2. People – office colleagues
  3. Phone – office and mobile
  4. Distracting thoughts – thinking of the next thing to do
  5. Noise - in open plan offices
  6. Clients expecting instant responses
  7. Personal Issues playing on your mind
  8. Un-necessary meetings
  9. Mixed priorities from management
  10. Fatigue

Strategies to minimise distractions:

  • Turn off the email alert
  • Check your email at certain points of the day, for example every hour or every two hours.
  • During important tasks when you need to focus block all distractions or remove yourself from the office environment.
  • Communicate to people around you that at certain points of the day you are not to be disrupted.
  • If the noise around you is too great look at using ear plugs at certain points of the day.

Dr Adam Fraser is one of Australia’s leading educators, researchers and thought leaders in the area of human performance. He’s spoken all around the country for Business Chicks and we love him! Learn more at


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