Between Your Ears #03: “How Well Can You Multitask?”

Main Topic: Whether it’s talking on the phone while driving, or texting in class, people today think they are capable of doing more than one thing at a time. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Our brain focuses our attention on the most important parts of our surroundings, and tunes out the rest. That means that while you are texting in class, your brain is ignoring the teacher at the front of the room. Your brain is incapable of processing all the information at once, and it forces the information you’re trying to cram into it into some sort of order. You end up with a “focus-pause-switch-refocus” scenario. This reduces efficiency, increases likelihood of errors, increases stress and mental fatigue, and often doubles the amount of time it takes to complete a task. While you can’t teach your brain to handle more than one task at a time, you may be able to improve your ability to switch between tasks. My suggestion, however: do your best to tackle tasks one at a time. You’ll be more productive, efficient, and safe. (Please, don’t be that guy.)

E-Mail: Robert and Alexis both ask if women are better multitaskers than men. As we’ve already discussed, true multitasking is close to impossible in humans. However, some researcher have suggested that women may just accept the challenge of multitasking more than men. Others have suggested that the techniques that women use to tackle multiple objectives may be more efficient than the ones used by men. My opinion: gender is one of several factors that can influence how well you handle multitasking.

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  • “Are Women Really Better At Multitasking?” study by Dr. Keith Laws [Link]
  • “Bad at Multitasking? Blame Your Brain!” on NPR [Link]
  • “Continuous Partial Attention” [Link]
  • “The Multi-tasking Generation” [Link]
  • “Human Multitasking” on Wikipedia [Link]

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