Multitasking Is a Cruel Mistress, and It's Almost Impossible to Quit Her


Last Thursday, Katie Couric asked a panel that included Dr. Donna Rockwell, a clinical psychologist, and Dr. Mark Hyman, the chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine, if multitasking is the enemy of mindfulness. They all agreed that yes, multitasking means doing a bunch of things crappily. Well, if that’s so true, how is it that I have 15 windows open in Chrome, a kettle on for tea, and the news running in the background and what was I saying?

Sure, these panelists are the type of people who say things like “The Buddha said, ‘When you’re cooking, cook, when you’re eating, eat, when you’re sleeping, sleep,'” but does that make them wrong when it comes to multitasking? As someone who paused the Game of Thrones finale to finish this sentence, I don’t love this news. I’m guessing I’m not alone, either. (Yes, I’m speaking to you, the person who’s eating lunch while texting your girlfriend about what you’re gonna eat for dinner.) (That said, I have nothing but respect for you — game recognizes game.)

Apparently, multitasking can be worse for your ability to GSD than smoking pot.

A study at Kings Psychiatry College in London, commissioned by Hewlett Packard, found excessive use of technology reduced workers’ intelligence and short-term memory. Employees distracted by email, text messages, phone calls and constant distractions (think about your average day right now!) saw a 10-point fall in their IQ when it was tested after they were multi-tasking, jumping between five and six different projects.
The researchers then examined the IQ drop of a test group after they smoked marijuana. The IQ of the group who smoked a joint averaged a five-point fall.

Uh, so if you’re doing both, are you pretty much fucked?

In Clifford Nass’ new book, The Myth of Multitasking, the Stanford psych professor claims that nonstop multitasking actually wastes more time than it saves. Further, he says the (almost unanimous) research demonstrates that people who multitask show an enormous range of mental deficits.

Even worse, people who say they’re the best at multitasking are usually the worst at it — they’re in complete denial, blinded to their own inefficiency by multitasking’s sweet siren song. According to Nass’ interview on NPR, mega multitaskers can’t filter out irrelevancy, can’t manage their working memory, and are chronically distracted — they’re pretty much mental wrecks.

Scarier still, Nass says that once we get used to multitasking, it becomes increasingly more difficult to concentrate on any one task, even after we eliminate distractions. Our brains have to be retrained to stop multitasking — and doing that is almost impossible. He supposes that we’re basically addicted to multitasking, and detoxing is just too painful.

With more and more technology flooding the market, enticing us into doing 50 things at once, the more we need to be cognizant of the issue.

The solution to multitasking isn’t that difficult to understand, even for a dumb multitasker — it’s one-at-a-time-tasking. So put down your iPhone, abandon your Facebook, force quit your iTunes, and turn off the boob tube. Now, if your brain isn’t too ravaged, get some work done. If you’re having trouble, perhaps putting some TV on for background noise will help a little?

[Huffington Post]

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