This is a common trait that we all look to develop and continue to hone through our career. Am sure most of us have heard about this as a part of interview questions or during some performance discussions. Right from our early childhood days our parents, teachers and peers have driven this well. If you are not able to multi-task, you are missing something major in life. But is it really something that we should strive to achieve? And more importantly is it possible to measure and get better at multi tasking? Let’s delve deeper into this over-rated trait and understand if it is possible to multi-task and how impactful it is.
ARE WE DESIGNED TO MULTI-TASK
Our brain is one of the largest in the animal kingdom and the abilities that the brain comes with is really amazing. But is the brain really like a supercomputer that does multiple processes in parallel? There have been various studies researching this and the reality is that the brain is extremely powerful in processing information fast, in ways beyond some of the fastest super computers could, but when it is required to activate some functions and to cognitively use the information being processed, it needs its space. So multi-tasking seems to be a myth after all.
WHERE IS THE PROOF
Ok, I know what’s in your mind, this doesn’t seem to be true, we consider ourselves very good in this skill and wear it as a badge of honor. Let’s try some stuff and see how it goes.
Try to lick your elbow – you may have tried this trick as a child, but please go ahead and try now. This involves control of facial muscles, tongue and your hand at the same time. Quite tough isn’t it? Perhaps you may think this is something to do with Yoga and our famous guru turned FMCG baron could do it. Let’s leave it for him. Try the next one may be!
Sneeze with Eyes open or Swallow and inhale at the same time – well, this doesn’t need physical agility right? This sounds quite simple and I bet you just tried. If you could do this successfully, congratulations, you are a rare breed!
Draw 6 in the air with your right hand while rotating your Right Toe clock-wise – well this was a tougher one wasn’t it? If you still managed to, may be you still got rarer.
Let’s try a simpler one – keep one eye closed and keep your hands at eye level. Now try to bring your forefinger of both hands towards each other, slowly. Did it touch?
Well, these are some of basic brain functions which we tried to put to use. Now, some of it you may have managed to do, but few of it you found it difficult. Feel free to post on comment those that you could do!
But the point behind this is that, some of the menial chores that we take for granted are tough to do when we multi-task.
Ok, here’s the fun one you can try before you read on, try tickling yourself and tell me what happened!
MOBILE WHILE DRIVING
Using a mobile phone while driving is an offence in almost all countries. And am sure you’ve had your share of this experience thinking it to be harmless and perhaps you do it often. This is an offence for a reason.
Next time when you are doing something important ask your friend to speak on a phone near you. Are you able to concentrate and work at the same pace? Research has shown that this is nearly impossible. Your brain starts hearing one side of the conversation and automatically starts imagining the full exchange of words. And this impairs your ability to perform anything cognitively or physically. This is one of the reasons in places they do serious work like a hospital, they do not allow you to use your mobile phone. Same thing applies to you while driving. The cognitive ability is found to go down drastically and hence leading to more accidents. So, do not use mobile phones while driving. I have noticed some intelligent idiots who watch Netflix while driving. If you notice one such, please pray for his and the world’s safety!
OK BUT I AM VERY GOOD AT MUTLI-TASKING
Well, your team may have mentioned this to you. Perhaps to make you feel better though. Technically you cannot multi-task, it is called switch tasking. What we have been proud about doesn’t actually exist. While your brain has the list of things to do, it does one activity at a time and every time you try to do the next activity, you switch the thought process. Every time you switch such tasks your brain uses more energy than what is needed. And when you go back to the earlier activity, the brain needs time to get accustomed to the flow. In essence, when you perform switch tasking, you actually get tired faster with slower output.
Next time on one of the tough days at work, try to assess yourself how you perform. The days when you have multiple deliverables and you juggle with them you end up feeling more tired and importantly less satisfied. This is not without a reason. May be try a different approach, list down your deliverables and prioritize and start applying your mind one by one. Trust me, you’ll feel more energetic and yet feel a better sense of achievement.
THOSE DAMN NOTIFICATIONS
When you are up to something important, keep your mobile away. The notifications that keep coming in keep distracting and you actually take in chunks of information which will not remain in your memory. Similarly, when you are having some important conversation with someone try to request time from the other person without a mobile. This is true even when phone is silent. The sudden screen brightening is enough to cause what it needs to. How many times in a cinema hall have you had the urge to pour cola on the head of the guy sitting in the front row, whose mobile screen is on!
More importantly, if your child is doing something important like studying, it is advisable to start a habit of keeping devices away to ensure continuous information intake and hence better retention. I know some of you feel bored when I refer to data and research, and those of you know me, know how much I love to quote data, so bear with me in the next portion.
MEDIA MULTI TASKING – THE NEW MALAISE
One of the common distractions like the cinema hall example is the media and technology multi tasking. It is quite rare to find some one spending a considerable amount of time doing a particular activity. Try reading a news paper for half hour without touching your phone. Boring right? Try reading your favorite story book that way. It is quite a task to do that. In the last post we touched upon the ‘missing out’ syndrome, you can read it here. This in a way has become a major source of distraction. There has been some good researches about the ill impact of Media Multi-Tasking.
Reasoning & Cognitive Ability is the skill that we all have that enables us to process complex set of information to make critical inferences. All the key decisions that we have taken are with this ability. Now, the Media Multi-tasking behavior has shown a diminishing cognitive ability. So, when your boy friend is asking your hand, ensure you put your phone away!
Memory serves us in two ways. Like a computer we have a short term memory and a long term. The short term memory is for a quick information retrieval and the long term one is for of course long-term and a bit slower retrieval. Constant exposure to multi-tasking has shown decline in memory skills. This means a decline in some of the complex human capabilities. Now, try remembering a mobile number? Not long ago, we used to have important numbers stored in memory right? Next time when you forget your wife’s birthday, remember me!
Inhibitory control is the ability to wait before responding to an impulse. This may be the urge for instant gratification or in other words the impatience that we all come across in ourselves and around us. If an instant gratification is denied, the impulsive responses tend to be more acute with over exposure. When you feel the urge to jump a signal next time, you know what to blame.
Lower IQ and Brain Damages are impacts that are observed due to this malaise. While lower IQ cannot kill you, just think if you want to be stupid, stupid! Brain damages may have long term impact resulting in much more chronic physio/psychological impairments.
We have all seen a joker juggling in a circus and clapped for it. When a joker does it, its amusing and he is paid for it. Be a better planner and perform better than becoming a multi-tasker! Well, if you frequently switch off and on, even a light bulb goes off permanently!
Reading is a dying skill on which Ill write soon, in the meanwhile I have started using some cartoon pics to pepper the otherwise dry text. Do drop in a line or two if you like or even if you do not. Happy to take feedback, one at a time!