Sought-After Skill Turns Out to Be Pure Myth
You may have seen the video. A woman is walking along in a mall, busily texting on her smartphone. As the security cameras roll, she walks straight into the raised edge of a fountain and tumbles in. Fortunately, she wasn’t hurt.
The problem is so big, it now has its own name: “distracted walking.” And the Consumer Product Safety Commission says it landed 1,150 people in emergency rooms last year.
Texting while you’re walking isn’t as dangerous as texting while you drive a car. But both point out a myth that’s bothered a lot of people for years.
Back in the mid-1960’s computers learned to do more than one thing at once. Engineers dubbed it “multitasking.” By the mid-90’s, the term was commonly applied to people.
Multitasking became an important skill. So important, it started cropping up on resumes… and job postings. A lot of older workers started worrying because they simply weren’t good at it.
And they were right. But they shouldn’t worry, because nobody is good at it. In fact, if you like to focus on one thing at a time, chances are you get a lot more done than any multitasker.
Multitasking may happen, but it makes you less effective at what you’re doing. In other words, the highly efficient multitasking employee is a myth.
Researchers at Stanford University put multitasking to the test. And they used world-class multitaskers in their studies… college students.
They split the students in to two groups: those who liked to focus on one thing at a time and the multitaskers.
First, they used a simple test to determine focus.
They flashed pictures of rectangles on a screen. Each pair of pictures showed two red rectangles surrounded by two, four or six blue ones. The volunteers just had to say if the red rectangles had moved from the first picture to the second one.
The one-thing-at-a-time group did well. The multitasking group did poorly. They were constantly distracted by the blue rectangles.
Next, the researchers tested their memories. They showed the volunteers several series of letters. The volunteers just had to recognize when letters appeared more than once in the series.
Again, the single-focus group did well. The multitaskers did poorly.
Finally, the Stanford team tested their ability to move from one task to another.
They showed the volunteers a series of pictures of numbers and letters, and told them to pay attention to one or the other. If the focus was to be on letters, the volunteers had to say if they were consonants or vowels. If on the numbers, whether they were odd or even.
Once again, the one-thing-at-a-time group performed well. The multitaskers didn’t.
The bottom line? If you’re multitasking, you’re fooling yourself. Our brains simply don’t work well if we try to focus on more than one thing at a time.
So, if you’ve been concerned because you’re not a good multitasker, you can stop worrying. You’ll get more done in less time by focusing on one task at a time.
Yours in good health,
Best Life Herbals Wellness Team
Source: Gorlick, A., “Media multitaskers pay mental price, Stanford study shows,” Stanford University. Aug 24, 2009.