Frequently Switching Tasks May Actually Be Impacting Your Focus

With so many of us packing several chaotic tasks into our daily schedules, it's no wonder that we often find ourselves succumbing to the act of multitasking. More often than not, you may find yourself switching ferociously between your tasks as you attempt to finish them all in a chaotic whirlwind. Sometimes, the hustle and bustle of our day-to-day lives can run away with us, with the average front-line U.S. worker reportedly having a total of 11 tasks to complete during their workday. Add this on top of house chores and your to-do list, and you can see why it's very easy for your brain to run wild.

However, while juggling several tasks at once may seem like an effective way to get things done, it can be counterproductive. Frequently switching tasks has an impact on your focus levels — and not in a positive way. While several factors play into it, there are some very specific reasons why our brains find it hard to handle multiple tasks simultaneously. So, how is this guilty act (that so many of us are culpable of) impacting your focus?

Switching tasks takes cognitive power

Frequently switching tasks may actually be impacting your focus, which then has a knock-on effect on your productivity. As a result of switching tasks, your overall productivity will decrease. This is otherwise known as the "switch cost". This effect was first explored by psychologists in 1995 and showed that frequently switching tasks had an impact on an individual's time efficiency. This hypothesis is supported in a book written by psychologist Gerald Weinberg, who notes that multitasking can impact productivity levels by between 20-80%.

So, how does switching tasks actually impact your focus? Firstly, our brain has to process the change that is happening, and then break down and understand what the next task requires. This requires some form of cognitive effort on behalf of our brains, and can significantly slow us down compared to if we were to complete one task at a time (via Neuron Scientific Journal). As a result, this impacts our focus levels as we become distracted by several tasks at once.

Notifications can negatively impact your focus levels

As technology has advanced, so have distractions. All around the world, millions of us are constantly tuned in to our online devices, primed and ready to strike as soon as we see that notification catapulting onto our screens. Believe it or not, the average person is pinged up to 46 times per day — quite a considerable amount. That's 46 chances for potential distraction on a day-to-day basis. Combine this with work emails and other distractions in and out of the workplace, and you can quickly see how it can be easy to lose focus. Of course, this can be difficult to avoid, as we are now all more connected than ever thanks to technology.

To support this idea, research highlights how notifications from our devices are "specifically designed to attract a user's attention" (via Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine). So, logically, if you have your phone close to you on a daily basis, it is likely that you are going to lose focus and get distracted every time you receive a "ping" on your screen. After that, you will then have to refocus on the task at hand.

However, there are some incredibly easy ways to improve your focus. To avoid being distracted by notifications, put your phone in "do not disturb" mode. Likewise, you can boost your productivity by "time blocking". Both of these methods should help you focus better throughout your day and eliminate any pesky distractions.