(Written by Nancy Vogt, FEI Account Manager)

If you’re an avid multitasker navigating between tasks even as you read this, you might want stop for a minute. While you may think you’re really good at multitasking, there is mounting scientific evidence that multitasking not only makes you less effective, but could possibly make you depressed.

For the most part, individuals simply can’t focus on more than one thing at a time. According to Earl Miller, a professor of neuroscience at MIT, what we can do is shift our focus from one thing to the next with astonishing speed. Switching from task to task creates the illusion we’re paying attention to everything around us at the same time – but we’re actually not.

To come to terms with our misplaced trust in multitasking, we have to face some of the lies we tell ourselves to defend it. Following are some of the biggest lies about multitasking, exposed to the cold light of scientific research:

LIE: I’m really good at it!

TRUTH: No one is.

Multitasking isn’t like tennis or learning French; you don’t get better the more you do it. Your brain isn’t designed to focus on more than one thing at a time, and an attempt to do so results in splintered focus and, according to research from Stanford University, cognitive damage.

LIE: It makes me more productive!

TRUTH: It makes you less effective.

When you skip from task to task throughout the day, you may feel you’re working faster, but what you’re doing is simply switching back and forth a lot. That doesn’t make you effective; chances are you perform your job well because of your ability to make good decisions.

Heavy multitaskers show a marked inability to focus on one thing or, more interestingly, prioritize. Communication Professor Clifford Naas, one of the researchers whose findings are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says heavy multitaskers are “suckers for irrelevancy” because “everything distracts them.” An inability to filter information means an inability to effectively prioritize. If you can’t prioritize well, then you can’t make good decisions.

LIE: It’s fun!

TRUTH: It’s the destroyer of fun.

Some kinds of multitasking are utterly benign, like folding laundry while watching TV. One of the reasons we think we enjoy multitasking may be because it gives the sense time is passing more quickly, which in turn provides the sensation we’re getting things done. What is disturbing is that a study published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, wherein researchers found an association between media multitasking and psychosocial dysfunction, suggests “the growing trend of multitasking with media may represent a unique risk factor for mental health problems related to mood and anxiety.”

All that being said, I’ll close with a quote from Albert Einstein on multitasking: “Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.”