Almost all of us pride ourselves on being great multitaskers. We can juggle e-mails, work assignments, phone calls, and projects — all while having the TV on in the background. Well new research out of Tel Aviv University shows that while many of us might think we're multitasking, what we're really doing is just toggling back and forth between a lot of different tasks and expending a lot of brain energy in the interim. In fact, the study goes as far as to say that only 2% of the population effectively multitasks, which means 98% of us don't.
For those 98% of us who ineffectively multitask the study says that the act of trying to multitask, "requires our brains to focus time and time again — and reduces overall productivity by a whopping 40%." That's a huge number.
But never fear, there are ways to program yourself to be a better multitasker, and the way to win that war is via a process called "reactivating the learned memory." Basically what happens is this: there is a way to integrate learned behavior by exposing yourself to two similar tasks at once. Then it becomes more a matter of muscle memory than flipping your brain between two tasks. So, say, you are reading while simultaneously vacuuming. If you learn to do the the two things in conjunction with one another, then they won't fight for the same brain space and you will — at least momentarily — find yourself in that illustrious 2%.
That said, you will never teach yourself to read two things at once so the argument that you can read your e-mails while simultaneously looking over the meeting notes is just not true; at least not for 98% of us.