Researchers at Stanford University discovered that the more inclined you are to multitask, the less able you are to actual deliver on the multitasking, whereas someone who just multitasks on the odd occasion may find it does actually work for them. Additionally, University of Sussex researchers found that cognitive ability is impaired long-term when we are regular multi-taskers. This means that instead of functioning well when we multi-task, over time we are actually making ourselves less efficient.
But what of those people who swear by their ability to multi-task? Well, it seems that those who think they are successful at it may in fact be good at multi-layering. This is when you do one task whilst in part being involved in another task. For example, if you're waiting in line, or travelling a long journey, you may be able to do some other mental processing activity because the first task doesn't require much mental attention from you (as long as you're not driving!).
Other ways you can multi-layer are to listen to an audio book whilst walking the dog, going through your voicemail whilst tidying your desk, or reflecting on your day as you iron your outfit for the next day. Researchers believe it's important for us to understand the difference between multi-layering and multi-tasking, and to combine our tasks in the context of layering so that we can maximise the benefits without impacting on our anterior cingulate cortex, the region of the brain that is concerned with empathy along with cognitive and emotional control.
Multi-layering is a strategic approach to your work, and one that is done with purpose. It's about combining activities that are not competing against each other - the competing element being the part that reduces our abilities to function at our best. And remember, multi-tasking could be your way of multi-avoiding. After all, who will criticise the person who is working so hard that they're doing 3 things at once.
If you're ready to be functioning at your best level, though, it's time to flick the switch. Turn off your multi-tasking, your multi-avoiding, and turn on your multi-layering. Give your brain the chance it deserves to function at its best and give yourself a break from trying to be the perfect person who can do everything at once. I've yet to meet Superwoman - but when I do, I now know her brain is deteriorating on her more and more for every day that she shows off her multi-tasking prowess. That makes me feel so much better!