Multitasking was even back in the 1740’s when Lord Chesterfield wrote about doing more than one thing at once in his infamous letters to his son. What would he think if he were here today with the technology to do more than 2 things at once?
I have been wondering this in the mornings recently as I get ready for work after being on the computer here for a few hours. I sometimes am checking tweets, Facebook or Google+ as I am brushing my teeth and drying my hair. Am I doing all or either effectively? Would it take less time if I were to do one thing at a time? The word multitasking comes from the computer engineering industry. It refers to the ability of a microprocessor to apparently process several tasks simultaneously. Are we really wired like computers?
In 2005, the BBC reported on a research study, funded by Hewlett-Packard and conducted by the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London, that found, “Workers distracted by e-mail and phone calls suffer a fall in IQ more than twice that found in marijuana smokers.” The psychologist who led the study called this new “infomania” a serious threat to workplace productivity. The study further found that excessive use of technology reduced workers intelligence. And an actual 10% fall in their IQ!
If you constantly break away from tasks to react to email or text messages you may suffer similar effects on the mind as losing a night’s sleep. And we all know how a night without sleep can wreak havoc on our bodies both mentally and physically.
Multitasking also has an impact on our learning. If you are trying to learn something new and are multitasking you are not as likely to be able to retrieve the information as easily. A study at the University of California showed brain scans of people who are distracted or multitasking show activity in the striatum, a region of the brain involved in learning new skills; brain scans of people who are not distracted show activity in the hippocampus, a region involved in storing and recalling information. Researchers believe humans are not meant to work this way. They believe we’re driving ourselves to perhaps be less efficient in the long run even though it sometimes feels like we’re being more efficient.
Let’s try an experiment and see if we can do one task at a time for a day. Here is what we can look for:
- Did we get more done?
- Did we have less errors?
- Did we feel less stressed?
- Did we learn more?
Will you join me in this multitasking experiment for a day? And what will you be looking for?