John Medina, author of Brain Rules, explains that multi-tasking is a truly a myth. The way that the brain works doesn’t allow for it. Although the brain can do multiple things simultaneously (You can walk and talk at the same time or breathe and read a book.) the conscious brain can only pay attention to one thing at a time. Our tendency to listen to music, answer the phone, and send e-mails or text messages, while trying to write a paper or finish a project at work is not productive. A focused concentrated effort can go a long way to help manage our time.
Here’s how Medina explains: “Research shows that we can’t multi-task. We are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich input simultaneously.” Without going into the neurological details, Medina goes on to explain that there are 4 steps that the brain must go through each time attention is shifted from one task to another – four more when attention is shifted back. The process takes several tenths of a second each time. It doesn’t sound like much time but it adds up quickly and maybe more importantly, the distraction hinders the more complicated processes of the task at hand. If you’ve ever found yourself losing track of previous progress, or heard yourself say things like, “Now where was I?” then you have experienced this problem. Medina says, “Studies show that a person who is interrupted takes 50% longer to accomplish a task. Not only that. He or she makes up to 50% more errors.”
This means that if we would put our cell phones on silent (or God forbid – turn them off), close the layers of applications running on the computer, shut the door, and give our tasks a focused effort, we could probably accomplish much more during the day and have fewer errors in our work. Our minds are just too crowded by all the messages competing for our attention. The immediate gratification of our “information addiction” is hurting us. Maybe we should just choose to ignore a few things. All of this thinking reminds me of another post which was inspired by the phrase, Selective Ignorance.
I don’t know about you, but when I was a student, I was a procrastinator. (OK – I probably still am.) But when the deadline was approaching, I would stop everything else and focus on the project. Although I had weeks to work on it, I was able to get it done in a couple of hours with focused effort. Based on my own experiences, I believe know Medina is right.
What would my life look like if I fasted from multi-tasking? Would my kids get more of me? Would I be more present in the moment? Would I get more done? Which messages/projects would I choose to ignore? Would I have to ignore them at all if I had more time ’cause I was getting more things done?