As you read this blog post how many things are you doing? Is the TV on? Music playing? Are you trying to have a conversation? Somewhere along the line we decided we were good at multitasking. We do have very complex brains that allows us to, do, feel and see amazing things, but sometimes we stretch even the limits of our incredible brains. So, the big question, is our complex, amazing brain capable of multitasking? The answer is… sort of.
Ok – quick science lesson. The front of the brain is called the prefrontal cortex. It is what sets us apart from every other animal. It helps us reason, process and a lot of other really cool human things; it’s the power house of the brain. The prefrontal cortex contains a right and left side. The right and left sides control different brain functions.
Because there are two sides to the prefrontal cortex studies have shown the brain can keep track of two tasks simultaneously, but there are a few conditions: 1. at least one of the tasks is so well learned it comes automatically, walking, eating etc. 2. The tasks must contain different types of brain processing. It would be hard read this blog and carry on a conversation because you are using the same type of brain processing, same side of the brain. If you were reading this blog and listening to classical music you are successfully multitasking because you are using two different types of brain processing. (source: psychologytoday.com)
The other amazing trick our brain can do is switch from one task to another at astonishing speeds. So, you might be cooking dinner and helping your child with their homework, but your brain is not processing those things simultaneously, it is firing rapidly between chopping an onion without cutting your finger off and digging deep to remember the correct formula for complex equations. So, rather than engaging in simultaneous tasks you are actually “fact shifting” from one task to another in rapid succession. (source: psychologytoday.com)
Now, contain the excitement because “rapid” transitions from one task to the next does not always mean you are able to immediately focus and settle in rapidly from one task to another. Studies suggest, “there is a lag time during which your brain must yank itself from the initial task and then glom onto the new task. This shift, though it feels instantaneous, takes time. In fact, up to 40 percent more time than single tasking – especially for complex tasks.” (source: psychologytoday.com)
Don’t fret multitaskers, you can still walk and chew gum, eat and carry on conversations, drive and listen to music, but don’t be overzealous, settle into one activity at a time. Give it your attention and focus. It will go faster, get done right the first time, saving you time and lowering your stress levels.
There is an article in Wired with research suggesting, “that children perform worse on their homework if it is done while watching TV and employees show greater productivity when they don’t check their email frequently”.
I challenge to you focus in, turn off devices while talking to people, reconnect, please put the phone down while driving, for everyone’s safety, enjoy finishing one task and then starting another. Take note of how you feel and how much you accomplish – one thing at a time!
Want to test your multitasking skills? Try this little task from Psychology Today