Break the Multitasking Habit with These Study Tips
It’s easy to get lost in thought when you shower, brush your teeth, or do your hair. But have you ever gotten so distracted in the shower that you wash your hair twice—or forget to wash it at all? If you’ve ever done something like this, then you have fallen into the trap of multitasking!
Multitasking, or doing two or more things at once, is something we do every day. An example is having a conversation with your child while you’re driving. There’s no harm in talking in the car because it’s easy for your brain to handle these tasks, but multitasking becomes a problem when one task interferes with the other. You might talk in the car, for example, but you wouldn’t text while driving because texting and driving both require your vision.
Virtual students are especially prone to multitasking because they’re surrounded by digital distractions. When students try to multitask while studying, they often fail without realizing it. Psychology professor David Meyer says, “Under most conditions, the brain simply cannot do two complex tasks at the same time. It can happen only when the two tasks are both very simple and when they don’t compete with each other for the same mental resources. […] But listening to a lecture while texting, or doing homework and being on Facebook—each of these tasks is very demanding, and each of them uses the same area of the brain, the prefrontal cortex.” When these types of tasks compete for mental resources, one wins a student’s attention and the other loses. Students may think they’re multitasking, but they’re actually just task-switching.
Multitasking’s Negative Effects
Research shows that multitasking has several negative effects on learning. Multitasking can:
- Weaken a student’s grasp on the information he or she learns.
- Reduce his or her memory of the tasks performed.
- Tire the brain more quickly.
- Cause the main task to take longer.
- Hurt a student’s performance.
If your student is used to multitasking throughout the day, the best thing he or she can do is break the habit and find other ways to get things done. Take a look at the different approaches to learning below.
Study Tips and Learning Alternatives for Multitaskers
- Set boundaries. The first step is for you and your child to discuss when multitasking is okay and when it isn’t. Your child should avoid multitasking during lessons, dinner, conversations, group activities, etc. Explain that he or she is free to watch TV while texting after lessons.
- Fit everything in through scheduling. Your child can develop his or her scheduling skills by deciding how to prioritize tasks according to importance. You can also revisit your child’s weekly schedule or routine to make sure his or her time is being used effectively.
- Take frequent breaks. Instead of jumping between tasks, your child can schedule blocks of time for lessons with regular breaks in between. For example, he or she could spend 45 minutes on math homework and then take a 15-minute break. Short breaks allow your child’s brain to rest and give him or her a chance to multitask on something not school related.
- Get rid of digital distractions. Making phones and other digital devices off-limits during lessons goes a long way. This way, your child won’t be distracted by incoming texts or social media notifications. If your child is likely to stray from lessons while on the computer, use an application such as K9 Web Protection to prevent him or her from visiting certain websites during school hours.
- Organize your study area. Besides removing digital devices, help your child clear all other distractions from his or her workspace. Cleaning up messes, removing unnecessary objects, and keeping everything in the right place can help your student stay focused on his or her work rather than the work area.
- Find ways to stay focused. It’s not always easy to stay focused on a single task, so teach your child different tricks for maintaining concentration. Taking notes while reading or listening to a lesson is one way to improve focus and learning retention. Another technique is workshifting, or finding another place to work where there are fewer distractions.
- Just relax. Sometimes, students are so busy that they feel the need to do a lot of things at once. But what students really need to do when they’re feeling stressed is relax. By relaxing, students can regain the focus they need to do one task at a time, plus they’ll perform better and faster.
Some students multitask more than others, so some students will have to work harder to adopt better study habits. What does your child need help with? Let us know what your specific challenges are.