Multitasking, as we tend to do it in the Information Age, is not all it is cracked up to be. Rather than a technique to boost efficiency, research indicates that it is actually a drain on the brain. Multitasking has been shown to undermine the ability for single focus attentiveness. It leads to feelings of stress and anxiety thereby diminishing satisfaction and joyfulness. Instead of increasing productivity multitasking increases the time it takes to complete tasks and reduces the quality of work accomplished, all while providing the illusion that doing more gets more done.
The last few decades of research into the human brain has introduced new findings about how our brains support an individual to function most effectively in his/her life. Optimal effectiveness as well as peak creativity occurs when an individual is able to focus exclusively on one task for an extended period of time. Yet in our day and age, we are called upon to regularly switch our attention from one thing to another, things that have little or no relationship with each other. It is not at all unusual to be working on a project when a call comes through, a text notification rolls across the phone screen and a sound informs you that a new email has hit your inbox. In The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, Daniel J. Levitin shares the results of a study conducted by Stanford professor Clifford Nass. His study, one of the first to upend the myth of the benefits of multitasking, used highly intelligent and capable Stanford students divided into two groups: those who described themselves as heavy media multitaskers and those who prefer to complete one task at a time. Professor Nass anticipated that his study would confirm the theory that high multitaskers were superior achievers. The results showed the opposite! Compared to the control group of students, Dr. Nass’s heavy media multitaskers were unable to pay attention, control their memory, or switch from one job to another as well as the single focused students. The multitaskers had difficulty discerning relevant from irrelevant information and proved to be easily distractible.
Eyal Ophir, one of Dr. Nass’s colleagues, came to the following conclusion about the media multitaskers in the study: They couldn’t help thinking about the task they weren’t doing. The high multitaskers are always drawing from all of the information in front of them. They can’t keep information separate in their minds.” Multitasking’s detrimental effects are the result of the inordinate amount of energy the human brain expends each time it shifts focus. This energy drain results in mental exhaustion. When the human brain is exhausted it records new information in a disorganized way. When information stored in the brain is disorganized it is difficult to access, making it irretrievable for use.
Multitasking is an inefficient use of mind and a poor use of time.
So if multitasking does not provide the productivity boosting ability we were once led to believe it did how do we manage in today’s information world while being bombarded with phone calls, appointment reminders, emails, texts, tweets, social media, etc. every moment of every day? One recommendation is to organize your attention by scheduling what you will focus on when. By creating a place and time for the different things vying for your attention you can attend to them on your terms rather than on the random way they intrude on your mind. Rather than checking your email, texts, or answering your phone every time a communication comes through set aside a specific period of time at intervals you determine to look at your emails, texts, and listen to voicemails. I organize myself by allowing up to an hour every three hours to catch up on recent communications. Depending upon your circumstances checking more or less often may be more appropriate. By creating distinct time periods to check on communications your mind can relax and focus, assured that you will know of any vitally important formation within a specified period of time, a period that you specified.
The benefits of allowing your mind to focus uninterrupted for periods of time every day are:
- Increased ability to focus
- Increased ability to discern relevant from irrelevant information
- Ability to accomplish more in less time
- Memory improvement
- A sense of calm
- Global application of information Try it.
Be your own experiment to determine how effective multitasking is for you.
About: Lisa Brick is a licensed acupuncturist with ACNJ who for several years has devoted her professional career to wellness coaching and coaching individuals struggling with the experience of divorce. She utilizes her vast experience as a holistic healer, teacher, feminist and progressive thinker to support our acupuncture patients to live into a life of physical and emotional wellness. She writes frequently about how our daily experiences shape our consciousness and physiology and how our thoughts, beliefs and feelings can create a life of wellness or dis-ease. Lisa shared this post originally on her Power and Purpose website. We’re happy to include it here on the Acupuncture Center of New Jersey blog.
Contact Lisa Brick for a coaching session or call 973-984-2800 to learn more
Cognitive Control in Media Multitaskers - Eyal Ophir, Clifford Nass + Anthony D. Wagner
Minimalism Is the Secret to Getting Shit Done - Paula Rizzo