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Beware of open tabs and multitasking

a screenshot of open tabs

This post is not about ethics.

It is about productivity, which, at some point in time, can / must be part of your ethics.

Some employers (including Ethicontrol) believe that it is an employee’s responsibility to take care of a company’s resources and avoid wasting them.


Working time being a function of productivity is also a limited resource, so you cannot maintain the integrity by procrastinating or killing your productivity.


Though this is part of Ethicontrol internal communication to support the company-wide ban on multitasking and multiple-tab browsing  —  it might be useful for any team.


Does the usage of multiple browser tabs have any impact on you, your health, and your productivity?


Of course, the short answer is YES!

But, before answering further, we must define the use cases:

  • Research. You google something and open dozens of tabs simultaneously to check what you were looking for.
  • Parallel run. You work on a single task, but you still need other tabs for assistance, inspiration, lookup, translation, visual search, or simply for background music. For example, you are writing a blog post and in parallel when needed check on a thesaurus, Google Translate, or a stock images bank. Or you have your corporate Slack or Gmail open in a tab together with Spotify with a Deep concentration playlist.
  • Common mode. When you do not close some tabs aiming to remember something, or just forgot to close sessions, or you are struggling with multitasking and performing some tasks.

Multitasking GIFWe will leave ‘Research and Parallel run’ untouched for now and focus on the most popular Common mode. Each time I sit down by my colleagues, I notice at least 20 open tabs, and sometimes our Mac users have up to five separate virtual desktops with 10+ additional Chrome tabs open on each of the screens. When discussing this issue, each “multitasker” pretends to be a super-effective multitasker, so let us look at the problems from a multitasking perspective.




Is it multitasking skills or a lack of focusing skills?

My management experience and the size of our corporate project management backlog is a piece of empirical evidence that this is purely a sign of poor self-management and IT skills.


And this has already caused a delay in some of our internal deadlines.

Let’s look at what arguments we found.


1. You slow yourself down.

Based on The Psychology Behind Opening So Many Tabs by Daniyal Malik in The Digital Information World.

Each time when you open too many tabs, you overload your computer hardware. Assuming that current computers and gadgets have become extensions of our brains, some analysts say that the same happens with your mind. In other words, you are merely slowing yourself down. 


… You are actually looking to overload information in your brain. This will not only affect the brain’s efficiency, but it can further shorten your attention span overall. We are constantly trusting an assumption about ourselves that we all are multi-talented, especially when it comes to our browsers, whereas we are just procrastinating the way we do in real life.


An additional argument found in the research brought by Browser Tabs Are Ruining Your Brain, here’s what to do about it by Angela Lashbrook, One Zero


Poorly-organized computer screens affected physicians’ response times and productivity in emergency rooms. It found that cluttered screens slowed their work with electronic medical records, and it was even worse when users were stressed.



2. Your brain cannot multitask, and your tasks will suffer. 

Based on What Multitasking Does to Our Brains by Leo Widrich, Team Buffer.

Meme with man in glasses about multitasking problem

One of the cited studies has been researching whether people were as efficient as they were feeling during multitasking. And it appeared that:


Although you feel great during multitasking, your real results were much worse than that of people who didn’t multitask. Our brains can’t multitask at all!

Brain imaging while performing several tasks simultaneouslyMultitasking splits your brain. It creates some kind of “spotlights”.

I would compare this with an old and slow printer which cannot print a complete picture at once and gradually line by line draw something unknown which can be identified much later.

This means that multitasking is not a feature of the brain; it is a term that does not have anything in common with physiology.

Clifford Nass from Stanford was looking for evidence to prove the “outstanding skills” of multitaskers had found the exact opposite.





It turns out multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking. People who multitask a lot are in fact a lot worse at filtering irrelevant information and also perform significantly worse at switching between tasks, compared to single-taskers.


3. Multitasking is for outliers, and you are not one of them—your overestimation s*cks.

Based on Multitask Masters by Maria Konnikova, The New Yorker.

David Strayer, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah, proved that most people could not combine tasks. For example, multitasking while driving and using a cell phone significantly decreases the ability to notice essential things on the road (children, bicyclists, signs, and billboards).monsters inc work GIF

Later, Strayer did discover anomalies that proved that only two percent of the population could multitask without a negative impact on performance. And this fraction is far beyond any normal distribution curves, so there is very little chance you meet such a person at the office desk.

He also discovered that most people heavily overestimate their multitasking skills: 


The better someone thought she was (at multitasking), the more likely it was that her performance was well below par. 


Furthermore, being a heavy multitasker rarely means that the tasks will be done with good quality. Similar to Strayer’s research was done at Stanford University, proving that:


Heavy multitaskers—that is, those people who habitually engaged in multiple activities at once—fared worse than light multitaskers on measures of executive control and effective task switching. Multitasking a lot, in other words, appeared to make them worse at it”


4. When you multitask, you are stupid. 

Based on Why Multi-Tasking Is Worse Than Marijuana For Your IQ by Vanessa Loder, Forbes.

Researchers from the University of London studied discovered that:


Multitasking with electronic media caused a greater decrease in IQ than smoking pot or losing a night's sleep. IQ drops of 15 points for multitasking men lowered their scores to the average range of an 8-year-old child.


5. You may also negatively affect your mood and stress.


A therapist Lorena Ramos, MA, LCSW has been studying the effects of the clutter created by numerous screens and tabs.


 A cluttered computer screen can overstimulate your brain, making it more difficult for your mind to process information, generate mental exhaustion, as well as higher levels of anxiety and stress.


6. You can damage your brain by multitasking and become a psycho without EQ and a career.

Researchers at the University of Sussex used MRI scans of brains to track the effect of simultaneous use of multiple media devices — e.g. watching TV and using a smartphone. They discovered:


High multitaskers had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region responsible for empathy as well as cognitive and emotional control.


Needless to say that cognitive and emotional control are parts of emotional intelligence (EQ) which has a significant impact on your career success.


Multitasking in meetings and other social settings indicates low self- and social awareness. 90% of top performers have high EQs. If multitasking does indeed damage the anterior cingulate cortex (a key brain region for EQ), it will lower your EQ in the process.




Numerous open tabs are bad! And multitasking is a very lame excuse for keeping multiple tabs open.

Multitasking itself is a myth that can be dangerous for you and our company. 

Each time identify a use case of multi-tabbing and, if it is not a Research or Parallel run, make sure you use not more than one tab at a time.

Use Evernote or Get Pocket to park your tabs and clear both your brain’s cache and your browser’s.

And remember — your multitasking means poor prioritization skills!



Image credits: The Next Web, Giphy, Memegenrator, OS X Daily