The Multitasking Myth

by Erin McCune on March 26, 2007

in Research Round Up, Technology

Recent research demonstrates that multitasking is less effective than previously thought – and in fact, slows you down. A front-page article in Sunday's New York Times summarizes the [compelling] research:

“Multitasking is going to slow you down, increasing the chances of mistakes,” said David E. Meyer, a cognitive scientist and director of the Brain, Cognition and Action Laboratory at the University of Michigan. “Disruptions and interruptions are a bad deal from the standpoint of our ability to process information.”

The human brain, with its hundred billion neurons and hundreds of trillions of synaptic connections, is a cognitive powerhouse in many ways. “But a core limitation is an inability to concentrate on two things at once,” said René Marois, a neuroscientist and director of the Human Information Processing Laboratory at Vanderbilt University.

Some advice for recovering multitaskers:

  • Manage your email (don't let it manage you)
    Check your email only at a couple pre-defined times throughout the day to avoid distractions
  • Block out your time
    Schedule blocks of time devoted to important tasks and do not allow for interruptions (turn off the ringer on your phone, shut the door to your office, etc.)
  • Pick background music carefully
    Soothing (instrumental) background music is okay, but avoid songs with lyrics.
  • Concentrate on driving
    [This one is the hardest!] Do not talk on the phone, let alone compose emails on your PDA, while you are driving.

Slow Down, Multitaskers; Don’t Read in Traffic
By STEVE LOHR
The New York Times
Published: March 25, 2007, pg A1

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