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Multi-tasking and the switch-cost effect.
Why it doesn't work well.
How often have you gotten into the habit of doing one thing, then realized you've gotten off-track and have to start over? If so, it may be due to the switch-cost effect. This is a cognitive phenomenon that occurs when people are interrupted while they are performing a task, and then must switch to another task. It typically results in worse performance on the second task.
One reason for this is that it takes time for the brain to “get up to speed” on the new task. This means that people are less efficient when they are switching tasks because they are spending time getting oriented to the new task rather than doing it.
Another reason for the switch-cost effect is that when people are interrupted, they often have to start from scratch on the new task.
Both of these reasons contribute to why multi-tasking makes performance worse on subsequent tasks after being interrupted. It can even lead people who normally excel at multi-tasking to perform poorly when they begin multi-tasking frequently
There are two different theories about how exactly this happens in terms of the brain. One theory states that after being interrupted, your working memory is still occupied by the first task. So when you return to the second task, your working memory must shift back and forth between both tasks until they can be completed. It takes time for this process to occur, which causes the switch-cost effect
Another theory suggests that when people are interrupted during a task, it creates interference in their long-term memory. According to this theory, after completing the first task, information from that task may interfere with performance on the second task by disrupting any new information added to long term memory about the second task (which would otherwise guide future behavior)
So what is the solution to the ever-increasing world of interruptions and distractions we find ourselves in? The answer lies in habits . Good news for those of us who don't have the willpower to achieve the proper work-life balance on our own: we just have to rely on our natural ability to develop good habits.
By creating a good habit, you can cut down on how often you are interrupted during your day. Even taking short breaks from multi-tasking can be beneficial, as it forces your brain to start over and refocus on the task at hand. By doing this, you are more likely to stay on your task without being distracted.
Another habit to develop is de-escalation. This is the opposite of escalation. You start by de-escalating some non-important tasks to reserve your mental energy for the most important task you must complete that day. By de-escalating these tasks, you create more time and mental capacity for the most important task. This makes it easier to focus and complete that task
A third habit to consider is to reduce the number of times you switch tasks by removing distractions. This can be done by deleting any unnecessary apps on your phone, closing applications on your computer that are open for no reason, and shutting off all notifications on devices.
In conclusion, multi-tasking doesn't work well, and it has been proven to make people less efficient. Task switching slows down our productivity by taking time for our brains to get up to speed on what we are trying to accomplish. By developing good habits, you can increase efficiency.