Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Another anti-multi-tasking article.

The older I get the more I detest multi-tasking. I now prefer silence as a backdrop to all my activities - even listening to music takes away from their savor.

Extracts from
Multitasking Can Make You Lose ... Um ... Focus
by Alina Tugend for the New York Times, October 24, 2008

As you are reading this article, are you listening to music or the radio? Yelling at your children? If you are looking at it online, are you e-mailing or instant-messaging at the same time? Checking stocks?

While multitasking may seem to be saving time, psychologists, neuroscientists and others are finding that it can put us under a great deal of stress and actually make us less efficient.

"You sacrifice focus when you do this,” said [the] author of “CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap!." "Multitasking is shifting focus from one task to another in rapid succession. It gives the illusion that we're simultaneously tasking, but we’re really not. It’s like playing tennis with three balls."

Think even of the days before the cordless phone. Those old enough can remember when talking on the telephone, which was stationary, meant sitting down, putting your feet up and chatting — not doing laundry, cooking dinner, sweeping the floor and answering the door.

We can do a couple of things at the same time if they are routine, but once they demand more cognitive process, the brain has "a severe bottleneck. ... when there's a bunch of visual stimulants out there in front of you, only one or two things tend to activate your neurons, indicating that we’re really only focusing on one or two items at a time."

Participants [in a multi-tasking study] lost time when they had to move back and forth from one undertaking to another... it took significantly longer to switch between the more complicated tasks.

Reaction time [during driving] was around 35 percent slower when writing a text message — slower than driving drunk or stoned.

A study published last April, "The Cost of Interrupted Work: More Speed and Stress," found that "people actually worked faster in conditions where they were interrupted, but they produced less," and found that people were as likely to self-interrupt as to be interrupted by someone else.

“As observers, we’ll watch, and then after every 12 minutes or so, for no apparent reasons, someone working on a document will turn and call someone or e-mail,” she said. As I read that, I realized how often I was switching between writing this article and checking my e-mail.

Her study found that after only 20 minutes of interrupted performance, people reported significantly higher stress, frustration, workload, effort and pressure.

"As our minds fill with noise — feckless synaptic events signifying nothing — the brain gradually loses its capacity to attend fully and gradually to anything ... we "feel a constant low level of panic and guilt."

"We need to recreate boundaries,” training yourself not to look at your BlackBerry every 20 seconds, or turning off your cellphone. Sleeping less to do more is a bad strategy, we are efficient only when we sleep enough, eat right and exercise.

So the next time the phone rings and a good friend is on the line, try this trick: Sit on the couch. Focus on the conversation. Don’t jump up, no matter how much you feel the need to clean the kitchen. It seems weird, but stick with it. You, too, can learn the art of single-tasking.


At 8:55 PM, Anonymous Ethan said...

My comments are here. Thanks for the inspiration!


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