Queen of Multitasking
I'm writing this article, watching TV, talking on the phone and drinking my coffee. I've always done more than one thing at a time. I believe myself to be the Queen of Multitasking. In fact, it's hard for me to only do individual tasks. Just the other day I was scanning the aisles of Walmart, reading my shopping list and talking on the phone. To my friend I said, "Lettuce." She asked, "Let us what?"
People can't multitask very well, and when people say they can, they're deluding themselves," said neuroscientist Earl Miller. He said, "The brain is very good at deluding itself.
You're not paying attention to one or two things simultaneously, but switching between them very rapidly."
At a lab at the University of Michigan, researchers are using an MRI scanner to photograph test subjects' brains as they perform different tasks. Two red items were shown to the man, so his brain searched for which one was larger. Then the subject was shown a green item; the brain had to decide which item was more important. The MRI showed the brain pausing before responding. It had to store information about the red item and search for what information it had stored about green items before deciding to focus on the green.
Miller says, "Part of the brain that does this is called the "executive system." It's a bit like one of those cartoon conductors telling the orchestra: louder, softer, faster, slower. You come in here. You be quiet for a few measures."
Peter Bregman tells about a study which showed that people distracted by incoming email and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQs. What's the impact of a 10-point drop? The same as losing a night of sleep. More than twice the effect of smoking marijuana.
Doing several things at once is a trick we play on ourselves, thinking we're getting more done. In reality, multitasking slows our productivity down by as much as 40%. We don't actually multitask. We switch-task, rapidly shifting from one thing to another, interrupting ourselves unproductively, and losing time in the process.
We need to learn to do one thing at a time. Otherwise, we are putting too much stress on our brains, and this keeps us from concentrating on what we are doing. If we devote more energy to doing the single task at hand, we will have more energy to finish that task.
How not to multitask is a difficult task. Realization that you need to channel your focus is your beginning. It is better to set aside small chunks of time to work on a task then to do several things at one time and not finishing any of them in a timely or efficient fashion.
Some multitasking is inevitable:
- Bouncing baby on your hip as you fix dinner.
- Yelling at kids while driving.
- Playing fetch with Fido while reading a novel.
- Tending to Farmville while talking (texting) on the phone.
To finish this blog, I turned off the TV and hung up the phone. I finished it in half the time it normally takes me to write a blog. I am less stressed—okay, I am still somewhat stressed—over the tasks that I need to accomplish before the day ends, but I feel good about my accomplishments so far today.
What multitasking chores do you do at the same time? How does this effect your writing? Would you have less stress if you concentrated on only one at a time?
Photo Queen: http://www.librarising.com
Photo Conductor: http://www.thestarpress.com