Lots of the research on multitasking makes it seem like a bad thing that will lower our ability to function. The common concept is that the brain can only focus on one thing at a time and doing two at the same time makes both tasks suffer. Here is some really good information to help you sort out the fear from the facts.
Do you sometimes talk on the phone and check emails? At a meeting do you occasionally talk with someone in the early chit-chat phase and check to see who else is entering the room? And then are there times you listen to music or watch the television while writing a report? I do these kind of things all the time.
Am I so wrong for doing this?
There is competing research that indicates when we are bombarded with constant information and want to check emails and talk to someone at the same time, we will pay the price. We cannot recall information as quickly and we are prone to make sloppy mistakes.
Another research study from the University of London that shows multitasking will lower your IQ, kind of like if you are smoking marijuana, drinking too much or partying into the night.
What is the upside of multitasking?
Tim Hannan, from the University of Western Sydney helps us relax into today's multi busy culture. His research indicates that our brains are pretty similar to those of our early hunter, gatherer relatives, way back when.
"Our cognitive system--our mechanisms of perception, paying attention and memory--have always been much the same."
Maybe we are simply cave people in different garb with a much broader vocabulary. Sometimes I do wonder if we really have progressed or what real progress is meant to look like. Sure we have air-conditioning and the Vitamix, and of course all the shiny new smart phones we carry around and check every few minutes.
It is hard for me to think that multitasking is bad. It sure worked for me as I was raising my daughters, working full-time, writing books on the side, and going to a party or two.
Here are some tips from how I think we can handle the mishmash of multitasking and still stay focused.
- Pick your battles: Doing two seemingly rote things at the same time will get them done faster. Think sorting the wash, talking to a family member and having a snack. Doable.
- Listen to music while you do emails: There is research about accelerated learning that shows listening to background music actually helps you learn faster. Read The Mozart Effect to find the right music for you.
- DO NOT, hear me, DO NOT have an important conversation and multitask: This is where eyes, ears, and your gut need to be aligned so there is clarity of purpose.
- Stop everything and shut up: Yes, the best way to be good a multi-tasking is to find twenty minutes each day just to be quiet. This is like a clearing station so you can then absorb information more effectively.
- Talk and drive: While texting and driving can be deadly, talking, listening to the radio to get the news of the day, or getting new knowledge from a book on tape can get you where you are going and shorten the knowledge gap that is always there.
Dr. Lea Williams from the University of Sydney's Brain Dynamic Center talks about the 'pruning stage' the brain goes through in the early teens. This is when connections that are needed get stronger and those no longer needed disappear.
I was driving home from a business meeting and listening to NPR. There was an interesting discussion about how the brain is malleable and that with the younger generations so addicted to texting, that brain scans in the future will show the place where the thumb resides, getting larger. And maybe even the shape of our hands will change. Who knows!
We are an adaptive species and we will always be changing. Dr. Williams keeps the whole multitasking concept in the positive.
"We've developed the technology because we wanted to and that is a new way to connect people in ways not previously possible."
She goes on to suggest that we are learning new ways to respond when we don't see someone. The cues are different and we're looking for ways to communicate emotions differently much like the original development of language.
Time for me to turn off my cell phone and the radio. I was giving my daughter advice about multitasking as I was writing this and looking up a recipe for her for sweet potato pie. Now, off to my twenty-minute retreat into silence.
But first, I will check my text messages. CU.