How can multitasking affect us

Everything nice one after the other. "Sounds pretty old-fashioned, this saying. After all, technical innovations pretend that people can do many things at the same time and still be effective at the same time: making phone calls, reading, writing, surfing. Even outside of the IT world, it persists The persistent myth that someone who masters multitasking is cool, somehow more intelligent than the others, but the cliché of being versatile and simultaneously gifted is deceptive.

It is true that people can speak and see at the same time without any problems. We also manage to listen to music and jog at the same time. According to the neuroscientists, these are simple, automated processes. And they don't require active brain work. However, if we are supposed to complete complex tasks almost simultaneously, our brain does not always function smoothly.

The researchers do not yet know what exactly happens in the head when multitasking. But one thing is clear: people are only capable of performing tasks at the same time to a limited extent. At least that is what a new study by the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) in Dortmund says. She takes a closer look at how multitasking on the one hand and work interruptions on the other hand affect working people. Because with both, employees have to quickly change their task and attention. Around 20,000 employees were surveyed.

Back and forth at work is no longer a rarity, on the contrary. The majority of office workers report "frequent interruptions". Belgian and French studies have shown that a nurse interrupts her job an average of 40 times per shift. German studies show that clinicians perform two or more tasks at the same time in up to 20 percent of their working hours. And teachers have seen three to 15 malfunctions per class.

But what does that mean now? Two things, according to the BAuA study. Anyone who performs a simple, monotonous task may be happy about a disruption. Because it brings variety and provides a new challenge. In this case, the interruption can even have a performance-enhancing effect.

In contrast, disturbances in complex tasks have a completely different effect. How annoying the interruption is felt depends on how often it happens. And how much time the processing of the new task eats up or at what point in time the malfunction occurs: Anyone who is in the middle of a complicated set of figures naturally needs a certain amount of time to think again afterwards. The study therefore states: "Interruptions and multitasking can be viewed as stressors", which cloud the mood, lead to irritation and impair health.