Preventing Multitasking: The Hidden Costs Explained

Multitasking might not be the productivity superhero we once thought it was. It harms productivity, increases stress, and even contributes to premature brain aging.
Multitasking Hidden Costs

Key Takeaways

The Hidden Costs of Multitasking

1. Multitasking Harms Productivity

Multitasking decreases productivity, leading to more mistakes and wasted time. It's estimated to cost the global economy $450 billion annually due to lost efficiency.

2. Multitasking Increases Anxiety and Depression

Multitasking is stressful, leading to anxiety and even health problems like high blood pressure and heart disease.

3. Multitasking May Cause Premature Aging

Multitasking accelerates cellular aging by affecting telomeres, which can predict age-related diseases like Alzheimer's and heart disease.

4. Multitasking Can Be Hazardous

Multitasking while driving and walking is hazardous, causing accidents and erratic movements. 

What Happens in The Brain When You Multitask

We're always told that multitasking is the key to getting stuff done. It turns out it's not great for us. It messes with our brainpower and can even affect our mental well-being.

It's funny when you think about it. You'd assume that if multitasking had always been a natural, essential skill, we'd had a term for it, right? No. The word "multitask" didn't even pop up until 1965.

IBM was the first to use the term while describing what their new computer system could do. Around the same time, psychologists were starting to look into how much we can handle at once and how many different things we can pay attention to simultaneously.

Nowadays, everyone thinks multitasking is the secret to keeping up with work and staying in touch with friends and family. People are so afraid of missing out (FOMO) that multitasking seems the only option. 

And it's become a badge of honor! People list the "ability to multitask" on their resumes like it's the hottest skill. But is it really something to be proud of?

Sure, we can handle two things together if one is so routine that we do it without thinking. Walking and talking at the same time? No problem. Drinking coffee while driving? Easy.

But when it comes to learning or focusing on two things at once, we hit a roadblock. Our brains can't handle that. When we do two things at once, our brains are quickly flipping back and forth between the tasks.

When we overload our brain with more info than it can handle, a part of our brain called the posterior lateral prefrontal cortex (pLPFC) jumps into action. Let's call it the 'traffic controller' of our brain.

This 'traffic controller' doesn't try to deal with all the new info at once. It queues it up, one thing after another. And if the information comes in too fast, it'll pick the first two things and forget about the rest. [1] So, yeah, our brains are just not built for multitasking.

The Hidden Costs of Multitasking

1. Multitasking Harms Your Productivity

People usually multitask to be more productive and get more stuff done quickly. But here's the irony – research has repeatedly shown that multitasking makes us less productive.

It's estimated that multitasking costs the global economy a whopping $450 billion every year due to wasted productivity. When we switch between tasks, we take time to get back on track with the first task, causing a 40% loss in productivity. [2] That's a significant drop!

Even while driving, attempting things like talking on the phone can make your journey take longer. [3] It's like multitasking throws a wrench in our efficiency.

Multitasking doesn't just slow you down; it also increases the chances of making mistakes. One study found that when people handled three tasks, they made three times more errors than those handling just two. [4]

2. Multitasking Increases Anxiety and Depression

Multitasking isn't just affecting our productivity. It's also taking a toll on our mental well-being!

Trying to juggle multiple tasks at once is seriously stressful. Even 20 minutes of constant interruptions can leave us overwhelmed, pressured, and frustrated. It's like our brain is running a marathon and not getting a chance to catch its breath.

One study found that when people's work was constantly interrupted by themselves or others, they worked faster but produced less. [5] So it's like we're rushing around like crazy, but it's not doing us any favors.

And you know what's even scarier? Multitasking and email use have been linked to stress and health problems like high blood pressure and heart disease. Those who don't have constant email access are less stressed because they're not getting pulled in a million directions all the time.

Brain scans have shown that chronic multitaskers have less gray matter in their brains. [6] Gray matter is crucial, as it's linked to depression, anxiety, and even impulse control issues. So, all that multitasking might be affecting our brain's health.

And here's the kicker: even when you try to multitask for fun, like playing a video game while watching TV, it's still linked to anxiety and depression. [7] Your brain can't catch a break, even when trying to relax.

3. Multitasking May Cause Premature Aging

Multitasking doesn't only mess with our mental health but also contributes to premature brain aging.

When you're multitasking and dealing with all kinds of stress, it affects your telomeres. Think of telomeres as those little plastic tips at the ends of your shoelaces. Every time a cell divides in your body, these telomeres get a bit shorter. It's like a natural aging process for your cells.

When these telomeres become too short, the cell stops dividing and eventually dies. And that's not good news because the length of our telomeres is a big deal when it comes to cellular aging. [8]

Experts even believe that telomere length might predict age-related diseases like Alzheimer's, heart disease, and diabetes better than the usual diagnostic tools. So, if our telomeres are short, it could put us at a higher risk for these not-so-great health issues.

But here's the silver lining: longer telomere length is associated with the production of new brain cells. So, you want to take care of those telomeres to keep your brain sharp and healthy.

4. Multitasking Can Be Hazardous

People who can't resist talking or texting while walking or driving can become a hazard to themselves and others!

The numbers on driving and using electronics are downright scary. [9] Check this out: cell phone use causes a staggering 1.6 million car accidents every year. And get this, a quarter of all car accidents are because of texting while driving.

Here's a shocking stat: drivers who text are six times more likely to cause an accident than drunk drivers. Texting while driving is even riskier than being behind the wheel while intoxicated because texting reduces reaction time and steering control by 91%. [10]

It's not just driving; walking while multitasking is also a big issue. People on their phones while walking tend to slow down, zigzag, and make sudden direction changes more often. It's like they're not fully present in the real world.

And the consequences can be devastating. Distracted walking leads to pedestrians getting hit by cars, stumbling onto subway tracks, and even falling off bridges.

When someone's using their phone while walking, their field of vision gets reduced by a shocking 95%. One study even found that 75% of college students engrossed in their phones were oblivious to a clown riding by on a unicycle. [11]

Two Tips To Stop Multitasking

There are awesome solutions to kick that multitasking habit and make your life happier, less stressful, and way more productive! Let's retrain that brain of yours with two simple but powerful techniques:

1. The Pomodoro Technique

It may have a fancy Italian name, but it's simple and super effective. A clever college student invented this technique to help with studying, but it works wonders for overcoming multitasking too.

Here's how it goes:

  • Pick a task you want to focus on and remove any tempting distractions. Clear that workspace!
  • Set a timer for just 25 minutes, and during this time, give that task your 100% attention. No checking emails, answering calls, or surfing the web. Just pure focus!
  • Once the 25 minutes are up, you can take a quick break to stretch and relax. You'll be amazed at how much you can achieve in these short bursts of focused work. 

Bonus: The timer also reminds you to get up and move around every 25 minutes, which is a wonderful health perk!

This technique works like magic. Not only will you get more done, but you'll also train your brain to ignore distractions and concentrate for longer periods. It's a win-win!

2. Mindfulness Meditation

If you've ever felt like you're pulled in a million directions, this one's for you. Mindfulness is about being fully present at the moment and not letting your mind wander to a million different places.

Mindfulness meditation is a simple meditation that trains your brain to increase awareness of the here and now. It's like a mental workout that reduces stress and boosts your ability to focus and concentrate.

And here's a cool bonus: Training your mind to stay present has been shown to increase telomere length, which slows down cell aging. So, it's like an anti-aging technique for your brain! [12]

Try these two techniques, and you'll be amazed at how much more focused and in control you'll feel. Multitasking might be tempting, but with these tools, you can conquer it and enjoy a more balanced and productive life. Let's rewire that brain and make it a multitasking-free zone!


So, there you have it! We've delved deep into the multitasking world and uncovered some eye-opening truths. It turns out that multitasking might not be the productivity superhero we once thought it was.

When we try to juggle too much, we slow down and make more mistakes. And that's not all – multitasking takes a toll on our mental health too. It can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and even premature brain aging.

The Pomodoro Technique is a simple yet powerful way to stay focused and get stuff done.

And let's not forget about mindfulness meditation – the art of staying fully present in the moment. It's like a mental superhero that reduces stress, improves focus, and even fights brain aging on a cellular level.

So, here's the bottom line: Let's ditch the multitasking illusion and embrace the power of focused, mindful work. Our brains will thank us, our productivity will soar, and we'll be happier and healthier in the long run.

Additional Readings

You May Also Like

Power Nap And Well-being: Unleashing The Benefits of Midday Rest

5 Reasons Why You Should Practice Meditation

The “No Time” Approach To Maximize Productivity


[1]Improved multitasking following prefrontal tDCS - PubMed (

[2]Multitasking: Switching costs (

[3]Drivers On Cell Phones Clog Traffic -- ScienceDaily

[4]Multitasking Splits the Brain | Science | AAAS

[5](PDF) The cost of interrupted work: More speed and stress (

[6]Brain scans reveal 'gray matter' differences in media multitaskers -- ScienceDaily

[7]Association Between Media Use in Adolescence and Depression in Young Adulthood - PMC (

[8]Telomeric aging: mitotic clock or stress indicator? - PMC (

[9]Texting and Driving Accident Statistics - Distracted Driving (Updated 2022) (

[10]RAC Foundation - No such thing as safe text

[11]Unicycling Clowns, Train Wrecks, and Pilots Forgetting to Land | Psychology Today

[12]Can meditation slow rate of cellular aging? Cognitive stress, mindfulness, and telomeres - PMC (

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