Thinking Allowed

Home » Uncategorized » Multitasking… or not.

Multitasking… or not.

If you’re reading this and checking your Facebook, STOP!

I want to talk to you about multitasking. Nat Geo, of all places, recently brought the issue to light in a brief article on their website, see it here:

We live in a multitasking culture, right? We all need to juggle multiple things at once, don’t we? That’s just the nature of life these days. But I think maybe what we really want is to get more done in less time, right? So I want to tell you how to accomplish that, and the answer isn’t multitasking.


Well, that’s not true, is it? Certainly you can breathe and type at the same time! Certainly you can walk and talk at the same time! Certainly you can take an exam while you nervously tap your foot or twist your hair or chew on your pen!
Your brain (and thus, your body) can do two types of things: conscious and automatic. A conscious process is one that needs you to actively receive and manipulate and respond to information. Like writing a paper, or talking to a friend, or reading an exam. An automatic process is one that your brain basically takes care of for you, in the background. Like breathing, or walking a familiar path, or nervously tapping your foot.

You can do more than one automatic process at a time, and thank goodness! Your brain, in the background, is always doing the things that need to be done to keep you alive, at least. You can also combine automatic and conscious processes – like chewing gum (automatic) while reading this blog (conscious).

The trouble is, you CAN’T do more than one conscious process at a time. You can’t add 345 + 619 at the same time as you read the rest of this sentence. And it’s not about your eyes being occupied! You can’t even add 3 + 6 at the same time you read this sentence. If you were paying close attention to yourself just then, you’ll realize that you stopped – just for a tiny moment – to come up with the answer “9” before you finished reading. That’s what “multitasking” really is – it’s attention switching.

Every time you switch between writing your paper and checking your Facebook, you lose a little bit of time. You also lose a little bit of your “flow.” You have to switch out of academic zone into friend zone, actually take the time to read the post (or send a text, or update twitter, or just see what “dinged” in your email), and then you have to switch your attention back to the paper and get your brain back in academic gear. And hands down, study after study after study finds that you are more productive when you do one thing at a time. So go where you won’t be disturbed, turn off your phone (YES! TURN IT OFF! ALL THE WAY OFF!), and put on something like Antisocial (Mac) or Cold Turkey (PC) so you won’t be disturbed by your Facebook, Twitter, etc. Just do it for 40-60 minutes. Then take a break. Stop studying or writing that paper. Actually pay attention to Facebook or Twitter or your roommate or text your mom back.

Just make sure you have the self discipline to go back to studying at some point!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: