The Multitasking Myth

Note: This was written on June 26, 2016

Multitasking. I loathe the mere mention of it. According to what is known about how the brain functions — the neuro-scientific and empirical evidence is unimpeachable — multitasking is a fraudulent concept of the highest order. At best it’s a misnomer. What we perceive as doing two or more things simultaneously is really alternating between doing those things within a certain time frame It is not possible for the human brain to effectively perform a particular function while simultaneously performing a totally different one. It can only alternate giving its undivided attention between the different tasks it is commissioned to address.

But because of the belief that multitasking is a ‘skill’ mandated by the helter skelter world in which we live, we continue to engage in this totally inefficient behavior to the detriment of achieving the very result we strive for: efficiency.

Take for example the (now) single-most preoccupying activity in the history of man: the smartphone. This (roughly) 3″ by 6″ rectangle has made us all one-armed zombies. The new body profile of homo sapiens in the modern ‘civilized’ world is one of a smartphone being held and periodically stared at while walking, driving, shopping, dating, playing sports, watching a movie and engaging in almost any other sort of activity. (Please assure me no one is allowing the smart phone to encroach upon one activity in particular, if you know what I mean.) None of these activities are optimized because they are playing second fiddle to a dominant activity.

It is accepted behavior to use the time spent in our vehicles to ‘multitask.’ After all, what better way to maximize our time than to conduct business or social obligations while transporting ourselves from one location to the other. Instead of this being ‘dead’ time, we make it useful time. All at the expense of performing the one task that, if not done well, could be fatal to us and others: driving safely.

We’ve all come to expect the delayed reaction of the driver in front of us when the traffic light turns green. Chances are good we may not even care because we are doing what they are doing: making use of the dead time by texting. Or scrolling on Facebook or Instagram. If you encounter a slow driver drifting out of his or her lane, what are the odds it is because his or her attention is diverted because they are looking at a smart phone? Pretty good, right? Sometimes it seems like the prerequisite for texting is that you must first get in your vehicle and go somewhere! I can’t count the times I’ve seen someone get into their car and within mere seconds of pulling out are looking at the phone, which is being held the entire time they are driving.

The point is, anything we do is at the exclusion of something else — either totally or in varying degrees. The most efficient way to accomplish anything is to give it 100 percent of our attention and brain power. To allow a second task to encroach on the attention directed at the first task detracts from our ability to perform either task efficiently. If we endeavor to add yet a third activity to the mix, performance efficiency is proportionately diminished.

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