“Multitasking is the future.”
Did you ever hear this particular phrase? Today, with an always on the move society – one that is full of social networks – multitasking has become something so common that is expected from us all. However, only 2.5% of the population can effectively use multitasking.
By definition, multitasking is working on several different tasks simultaneously. But is this what happens in our brain? Does a small thought box work in task A and another box in task B and still another in task C?
The myth of “I’m paying attention to the conversation, reading an email and seeing the news at the same time” is exactly that – a myth. By forcing a constant shift of focus, the tasks you are trying to do will suffer. The brain freezes if we try to do one thing while we continue to work on another, because the prefrontal cortex – responsible for attention – can not change the focus of concentration in such an immediate way.
Constantly changing your attention will also have a negative impact on cognitive ability – leading to weaker reasoning and even a decline in IQ. Nowadays, we know that a life full of distractions – television, mobile phones, social networks, SMS and emails, etc. – has negative long-term effects like difficulties in paying attention and controlling impulses.
This happens because, by performing two tasks at the same time, the brain is effectively competing for the same resources. Do you remember the last time you tried to read a text and someone was trying to talk to you – did you manage to pay attention to both? Or did you have to interrupt one to give the other the necessary attention?
In the brain, multitasking means hierarchizing the need for attention. Braincrafts explains: the brain needs time to realign attention and, whenever it moves between different tasks, it is losing the focus, realigning it with the new task. This is how, by multitasking, you are in fact spending more time than you might have planned.
The key to improving your attention span is to combat the fragmentation of your attention by keeping focus on each task you perform – one at a time.
There is only one exception, which could lead to better multitasking results – Automatic tasks. Like walking and whistling or tying your shoelaces and talking. But even so, you will find people who will stumble or trip all over themselves, when they are walking and talking on the phone, for instance. This is because, even with these automatic tasks, the brain is constantly hierarchizing your attention. Consider this: You are talking to a friend while driving home. Do you remember the path you did – the houses, the trees, the cars? Or do you remember the conversation you had? In which task was your attention?
Inês Cabral | Project Manager at Bright Concept
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