Let’s all face the hard truth right now. You are not a professional multitasker. As a matter of fact, our brains make effective multitasking impossible in most cases (and no, one of those cases is not walking and chewing gum).

A lot has already been written (by people smarter than me) about why multitasking is a bad idea and can make you worse at your job. But, what if multitasking was also keeping us from being the best we can be every day?

Based on the available research, here are X ways your attempts to multitask are making it harder for you to be the person you want to be, and what you can do to change that.

Multitasking is Wrecking Your Morning Routine

The actions you take during your morning routine may be the most important ones you do all day long. Without a good breakfast, exercise, and some focused mental stimulation, you’re missing out several opportunities to be your best self. But, try to overdo it–pack too much into the morning routine–and you may as well just go right back to bed.

The morning is when most of us have the largest amount of potential cognitive energy. It’s easy to feel like you can accomplish anything and you naturally want to take on two or three things at once to take advantage of this energy. Don’t give in to this temptation. Research shows that multitasking zaps your energy much faster than focusing on one thing at a time. Before you know it, that feeling of being alive and ready to tackle anything is out the door before you’ve had your second cup of coffee.

So, what can you do about it?

There’s no shortage of great advice on how to build a bullet-proof morning routine. I recommend picking a strategy that plays to your strengths and will help you accomplish your goals and stick to it. For help, read my awesome blog post about morning routine lists.

Multitasking Makes You Less Empathetic

I’m betting you multitaskers out there are going to have a hard time believing this. Being distracted, that is, multitasking, while in conversation with someone else not only makes it difficult to focus on your conversation, but it also makes you appear distracted and aloof to the people around you. At the end of the day, that perception makes it harder to be the best employee, colleague, and friend you can be.

So, what can you do about it?

For starters, put the smartphone in your pocket when you’re talking with someone. It can be hard to ignore the buzzing in your pocket or on your wrist during this time, but attempt to listen completely to your conversation partner. Make eye contact and just speak. The people (or robots) on the other end of your phone can spare the additional minute or two it takes you to reply. If something is legitimately a fire, remove yourself from the conversation—your partner will understand (and perhaps empathize with you, too).

Multitasking Makes You Dumber

A lot of people will misread this headline and assume it means that, while you multitask, you’re not as good as doing the things you’re doing compared to if you’re not multitasking. While that is true, multitasking has effects on your brain that can be far more sinister. Some researchers have found that consistent exposure to distractions and multitasking can lower your IQ by up to 15 points, and others have discovered that it can actually lead to longer-term brain damage.

You. Don’t. Need. That.

So, what can you do about it?

It can be difficult to identify multitasking in the moment, mostly because your brain tells you it’s so amazing that you’re multitasking right now (think of all the things you’re trying to accomplish!!!) you have to put a system of heck’s and balances in place, and if necessary, an external accountability system.

One method I love is journaling. No, you don’t have to make it a habit. Just do it once. Carry a journal around with you and make a tick mark every time you catch yourself multitasking. If you have the time, write down exactly what your primary task should have been as well as what your additional task(s) ended up being.

The next time you start one of those primary tasks, do something to stop that distracting task in its tracks so you’re not tempted.

Multitasking is Addicting

Like a drug, you can absolutely get hooked to multitasking. Studies show that multitasking actually results in feelings of happiness, which people misattribute to feeling more productive. Because you feel happy after multitasking, you’re more likely to do it again.

And again, and again, and again.

So, what can you do about it?

Stop it. That’s right, the best way to crush the negative effects of multitasking is to knock it off. But, you don’t have to go cold shoulder. Pick a period of time during which you’ll do nothing but single-task. And, make it a short period of time AND make sure you complete something of substance.

Every time you’re successful, give yourself a pat on the back (or maybe a 1-minute scroll through Instagram) and start again. Soon enough, you’ll be single tasking your way to a stronger, more empathetic, more productive mind.

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Feature image: Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash