Why multitasking damages your work, relationships and mind

Brian Solis describes how digital distraction is affecting every aspect of our lives, including our mental health.



Busy mums looking to integrate work and family have always faced big challenges, but in the past 20+ years, email, social media and multiple digital distractions have made achieving work/life balance much harder.

Digital distraction – it’s a problem for your children and teens who scream when you take away their phones or devices, but, assuming you’re under 60, it’s probably an issue for you too. If you often find yourself compulsively checking email, Facebook, Instagram or your smartphone when you should be finishing a work project, you’ve got a problem.

I have a bit more news for mothers juggling work and family – constant multitasking doesn’t work. No matter how good you think you are at doing two or more things at once, quickly toggling between tasks makes you prone to mistakes and actually reduces productivity by 40%.

Unfortunately, the bad news doesn’t stop there. In my book Lifescale I share a substantial list of physical and mental side effects that result from our compulsion to multitask and give in to constant distractions, including heightened stress, memory loss, lower IQs, spoiled relationships, a withered capacity for empathy and perhaps even brain damage!

A world of constant distraction

The media has just started to catch on to the absurdity and even sadness of this situation. Two examples:

    • A recent news programme featured a reporter in the middle of a busy sidewalk, where, almost immediately, pedestrians on devices were bumping into him without even looking up or noticing the cameraman nearby.
    • I was saddened by another story which involved tracking a family’s digital distraction over a period of time. In a candid interview at the beginning of the piece, a concerned mum admitted: “I’m kind of afraid to do this. I don’t want to learn that I’ve been a bad mother.” She knew something was wrong, but had no idea how to fix it.

As families and communities, we’ve learned to work around digital distractions, but mentally and emotionally, we’re definitely not living our “best” lives.

Don’t give up hope

Everything I’ve written above may lead you to think I believe in unplugging completely, or as we say in the states “Going off the Grid.” I don’t. I work in the tech industry and continue to believe in the power of tech to improve the world.

Learning to balance tech in our lives is a challenge, but it’s one I’ve worked through myself. I wrote Lifescale to find solutions for myself and others and there are proven short-term fixes and long-term solutions to digital distraction, which I share in my book.

Finally, as a parent, I understand that most of us were never trained to manage all this technology. We didn’t grow up with it and certainly never anticipated the ways it would overtake our lives.

Most of us were born into an analogue world, but our children weren’t. It’s up to us to help them understand that technology is a tool, but that it can also be as addictive as drugs or alcohol. With greater awareness and the tools that are available, we can confront our own digital problems, help our children come to terms with theirs and work through this addiction together.

*Brian Solis is author of Lifescale: How to Live a More Creative, Productive, and Happy Life (Wiley, 2019). Prior to joining Altimeter, where he is currently studying digital transformation and how businesses are investing in the new digital customer experience, he was the founder and principle of FutureWorks, where he led interactive and social programmes for Fortune 500 companies, leading brands and Web 2.0 startups.  He is also a leading keynote speaker and an award-winning author of seven best-selling books.

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