Monday, August 11, 2014

Don't multitask; partition your day. Your brain demands it.

No post today, but "Hit the Reset Button in Your Brain" at the New York Times describes what the brain struggles with when interrupted. Read the whole thing; it's worth it.
Every status update you read on Facebook, every tweet or text message you get from a friend, is competing for resources in your brain with important things like whether to put your savings in stocks or bonds, where you left your passport or how best to reconcile with a close friend you just had an argument with.

If you want to be more productive and creative, and to have more energy, the science dictates that you should partition your day into project periods. Your social networking should be done during a designated time, not as constant interruptions to your day.
 Email, too, should be done at designated times. An email that you know is sitting there, unread, may sap attentional resources as your brain keeps thinking about it, distracting you from what you’re doing. What might be in it? Who’s it from? Is it good news or bad news? It’s better to leave your email program off than to hear that constant ping and know that you’re ignoring messages.
And this from the Wall Street Journal
“People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves,” said MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller. “The brain is very good at deluding itself.” Simply put, we can’t focus on more than one thing at a time. What we do is shift focus, trying to manage multiple threads. “Switching from task to task, you think you’re actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you’re actually not” said Miller. Researchers like Miller say they can actually see the brain struggling. “You cannot focus on one while doing the other. That’s because of what’s called interference between the two tasks” explains Miller. “They both involve communicating via speech or the written word, and so there’s a lot of conflict between the two of them. 
The challenge is to define the problem – and the solution. “The current system lets other people add things to my to-do list” says Esther [Dyson]. 


Anonymous said...

Finally! Since the beginning of the multitasking craziness, I have called it one of the worst things foisted on the workplace.

undine said...

Anon--lots of studies keep showing the same thing, and yet multitasking is permanently the new black in management circles and in those unsupported claims about how all the digital natives can do it. They can't. Nobody can.

Anonymous said...

So true. (And digital natives can do LESS with computers, not more, in my experience. In the 80s you had to acquire at least some geek skills and that makes you a different kind of animal.)