Think You’re Multitasking?

Maybe you are but probably not. According to Jon Hamilton a correspondent for NPR’s Science Desk in his article Think You’re Multitasking? Think Again. 

“New research shows that we humans aren’t as good as we think we are at doing several things at once. But it also highlights a human skill that gave us an evolutionary edge.”

 Multitasking: A Human Delusion?
“People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves,” said neuroscientist Earl Miller. And, he said, “The brain is very good at deluding itself.”

Miller, a Picower professor of neuroscience at MIT, says that for the most part, we simply can’t focus on more than one thing at a time.

What we can do, he said, is shift our focus from one thing to the next with astonishing speed.

“Switching from task to task, you think you’re actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you’re actually not,” Miller said.

“You’re not paying attention to one or two things simultaneously, but switching between them very rapidly.”

In addition Daniel Weissman a neuroscientist at the University of Michigan says:

Humans are also not like cats, or dogs, or even apes, when it comes to controlling how our brain responds, and what it responds to. Weissman says this skill probably evolved to help humans — who are pretty vulnerable, physically — to do things like hunt animals that are bigger and stronger.

“As hunters, you know, people had to hunt something, and keep track of where their friends were,” Weissman said. “You’ve got to think about, ‘What is that tiger going to do?’ you know, and, ‘I’ve got my group of friends’ — and surround the tiger.”

Weissman says that keeping track of all those things wouldn’t be possible without the executive system in our frontal lobes.

Still, Weissman said, “There are lots of animals in the world that hunt without these increased abilities. So I wouldn’t say that to hunt you have to have a lot of frontal development. ”But on the other hand, it helps.

In a blog post  Are You Really Multi-Tasking? on  he quotes from a Huffington post blog from Russell Bishop Author, Consultant and Executive Coach”

I would point you to his words: “Can you hold multiple goals at the same time? Of course you can.

Can you work on multiple goals at the same time? Of course you can.

Can you work on multiple tasks at the same time? Well, that’s another story.”

My response on Jeff’s blog to the question Are You Really Multi-Tasking?:

“Is that why I have 12 tabs open on this browser and 2 on another? 3 word docs and 2 excel docs open? Why is my computer slow?

But the reality is we are not computers that can process multiple operations simultaneously. We are more like computers that process one task for a time period, stop start another, stop start another, stop go back to the first and so on.

Call it multi-goaling, multi-choreing, or multi-tasking us one brainers can only concentrate our brain on one thing at one time. The duration between jumping from one task to another, and the duration that we can stay on one task is a function of our individual brain chemistry.

Can I drive, talk on the phone, drink coffee, text, eat a sandwich, listen to the radio, text, talk to a passenger, smoke a cigarette, read email and more, of course.

Over time we learn to do things subconsciously allowing us to do things with less brain effort. Does this mean we are doing 2 things at once? I does not matter if we are or are not but it may look of feel like we are.

The question becomes how efficient we are at doing things when doing multiple things.

When I drive and talk on the phone I tend to miss exits because I  switched from conscience to sub-conscience driving while I concentrate on talking. We all do this. Some better than others.

When I subconsciously chew my sandwich I can drive with out missing my exit. It’s picking up, looking at and taking a bite of the sandwich that takes eating to the forefront of my mind and we usually know better and put down our sandwich to take the exit.

But who shuts their radio off when they drive or not have conversations with passengers?

I don’t want to be driven by the driver that can’t talk to me and drive at the same time. “Don’t talk to me I’m driving” is not something I want a driver to tell me.

Young drivers get into a lot of accidents because they have not developed the ability to switch from task to task or conscience to subconscious quickly or appropriately. I suppose some never will.

So the question is… Do Adders multitask better the non-adders?

I suppose some do and some don’t but correct my if you disagree but it seems we have a natural ability to switch faster or at least more often than non-adders.

Everyone is different and every task is different. Medication may allow us to stay on task longer and depending on the job that may be better but sometimes it isn’t.

In school the medication my children take allows them to fit into the box called school easier because concentrating on one task is what is needed for lectures or math problems.

Other situations call for different mentality and “fleet feet” of the brain. Medication for me at least would be a disadvantage in some situations. Maybe I’m lucky in that I seem to have a good memory so I don’t have to tax my brain to much to recall a situation from the past.

In my last job I had 7 people calling me up as they went from job to job fixing things. They asked how to do things, how much things cost, what was the proper part, what was the history, and a bunch of other things. At the same time customers were calling asking when we would get to their job, can we do a new job, and a dozen other things.

Without being able to multitask this job would have required 3 people.

Another part of the job was doing quotes, looking for product and suppliers and ordering product. These tasks required much more concentration and perseverance. Medication would have been welcome.

Doing both at a same time was virtually impossible. So as best I could I broke up my day doing small quotes and short product searches between phone calls and larger tasks before and after the phone was busy.

All this proves is that it does not matter what you call it, using the right tool at the right time for the right job is what we need to be conscience of and things will work out.

Figuring that out and doing it is the trick.

As my wife likes to say “Another case of do as I say, not as I do.”

Sorry about the length of this post. This is more fun “shiny” than the 20 other things on my todo list.”

If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.- Catherine Aird

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