24 September 2010

Multi-Tasking Takes Away More Than We Think We Gain

We've been led to believe that multi-tasking is a good thing, and possibly gender specific.
We know multitasking while driving is not good. Many countries have outlawed driving while talking on a cell phone, but they can't specifically outlaw drinking coffee, putting on make-up or eating a sandwich from the drive-thru.

On the other hand, a much vaunted improvement in the recent iPhone operating system was the multi-tasking feature.

In discerning whether it is good for us or not, I think we need to consider whether we want to look more productive or have a clear and purposeful mind.

A University of London study 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, our productivity goes 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.

You might think you're different, that you've done it so much you've become good at it. Practice makes perfect and all that.

But you'd be wrong. Research shows that heavy multi-taskers are less competent at doing several things at once than light multi-taskers. In other words, in contrast to almost everything else in your life, the more you multitask, the worse you are at it. Practice, in this case, works against you.

Multi-tasking is a significant reason why we are witnessing epidemics of rage, believes Dr Alan Keen, a behavioural scientist at Australia’s Central Queensland University.

‘Why are people in large cities more angry?’ he asks. ‘If I’m living in a big city with a busy job and I’m multitasking and I’m a busy parent, all that translates into chemical changes in the brain.’

For an understanding of what must have been going on in my brain when I was trying to watch an Indianapolis Colts NFL football game on Monday via two different internet streams and a radio stream at the same time, see this highly academic study on Cognitive Control. You will NOT be able to multi-task while reading it!

And spiritually speaking, how can we be fully present with those we love when we are only listening with a few brain cells and doing 17 other things t the same time?
In the midst of day to day responsibilities, Christine Valters at Abbey of the Arts, suggests being as fully present as you can to the task at hand. When you're in work-mode be fully mindful to it as you engage it. Do only one thing at a time. Multitasking only serves to increase anxiety. Quoted from In The Life of a Busy Woman

MEDITATE. Brain scans of non-religious Westerners who meditate show they have increased development in regions associated with memory and attention. U.S. research shows meditation makes brains more efficient at paying attention, so there is brain power spare when doing two tasks at once.

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