Let’s look at the two extremes of the spectrum. On one hand you have multitasking, and on the other 100% focus. Most of us believe that multitasking is an important skill, and that you will be more effective if you can multitask.
I propose to you that multitasking is impossible, and that we should be striving for 100% focus in our lives.
Since the 1990s, experimental psychologists have conducted experiments on the nature and limits of human multitasking. In general, these studies have disclosed that people show severe interference when even very simple tasks are performed at the same time. This is especially true if both tasks require selecting and producing action.
Many researchers believe that action planning represents a “bottleneck”, which the human brain can only perform one task at a time. One psychiatrist by the name of Edward Hallowell has gone so far as to call multitasking a “mythical activity in which people believe they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously as effectively as one.”
In one set of experiments, participants that claimed to be successful at multitasking were tested. They were placed in a driving simulator with a very challenging course. The diving course was designed to require a high level of attention to keep control of the vehicle and avoid crashing. At the same time they were listening through a headset. They were required to answer true or false to mathematical statements such as 4 times 2 minus 1 is equal to 7. In addition, between the math statements they heard a word that they had to memorize. At the end of the driving course they needed to repeat the words in sequence.
The experiment showed that the participants could not successfully complete these tasks. If they completed the driving course, they averaged only about 50% effective on the testing. If they concentrated on improving their testing results, they crashed the vehicle.
Others people have researched multitasking in specific areas, such as learning.
Two researchers, Mayer and Moreno, have studied cognitive load in multimedia learning extensively and have concluded that it is difficult, and possibly impossible to learn new information while engaging in multitasking.
Two other researchers, Junco and Cotton, examined how multitasking affects academic success and found that students who engaged in more multitasking reported more problems with their academic work.
Research has also shown that multitasking can result in time wasted due to human context switching and causes more errors due to insufficient attention.
Just this week, Time Magazine reported, that in Abu Dhabi, car accidents dropped by 40% on the three days of the recent Blackberry service outage. A 40% drop – incredible!
Research supports that in all cases our effectiveness is reduced by multitasking. There are no studies that can support in any instance that multitasking can improve performance. None!
Do you ever try to multitask while in a conversation? Has your spouse ever accused you of not listening? I know that sometimes when my wife is talking, my mind is thinking about something else. It appears that I am listening, and I hear a few words, but I don’t really hear what she is saying. My mind was elsewhere. I think that the lack of focus affects our relationships – at home – in the office – everywhere.
In summary, when it comes to multitasking versus focus, we are doing ourselves an injustice by thinking we can multitask. We can never live to our potential if we do not understand where our focus needs to be.
So I challenge you – beginning right now. For the next 3 days, stop multi-tasking! Whatever you are doing and wherever you are. Dedicate 100% of your focus to the task. Focus 100% on the conversation. Focus 100% on the person.
It will not be easy. In this world we are constantly bombarded with information.
Afterwards reflect on the change. Reflect on how others reacted when you gave them 100% of yourself. Reflect on how well, how quickly, and how efficiently you completed tasks.
Take the 3 day challenge, and see how you can improve yourself!