Too Much Multitasking
By Lauren Stiller Rikleen
have friends like Sue and John. They are the ones who, while on a
telephone call at work, scan through their e-mails, shoot back quick
responses, and clean out their in-boxes. As they rush off to
carpool and attend their kids’ games, they continue their work calls
from the car, half listening to the days’ events told from the back
seat. At the game, they furtively respond to e-mails on their
blackberries and step away to make calls while hoping not to miss an
important play. The electronic connections continue through dinner,
subsequent baths, and while reading the abridged version of a
favorite bedtime story.
just another day for Sue and John. Or is that really ourselves we
see? In today’s obligation-filled, overstressed, and electronically
diverse lives, most think the key to survival is our ability to
multitask. And the key to success depends on multitasking at a
speed that requires our brains to focus on our to-do list, barely
cognizant of what we are actually doing.
breakneck pace to find the solution to our myriad work/family
challenges, it appears we are seeking the wrong cure. Recent
studies which reveal the negative ramifications of multitasking
should cause us to question our relentless pursuit of endlessly
inventive ways to accomplish more than one thing at a time.
out that, rather than having the desired effect of freeing us up to
have more time, multitasking may be impairing our cognitive
abilities. Emerging scientific research demonstrates that our
attention overload and constant distractions impair our
concentration, increase our stress responses, decrease our
effectiveness, and can cause short-term memory loss. Studies also
show that multitasking can result in less efficiency by actually
slowing us down, because of the time it takes for our brains to
adapt to the demands of constantly switching gears.
understand the relationship between the performance of workers and
their always-on technology behaviors, Hewlett Packard commissioned a
study of the impacts of “Info-Mania.” The results showed that the
constant disruptions and switching of tasks can cause a 10-point
drop in IQ, similar to the effects of missing an entire night’s
sleep. In other words the more we try to do, the less capable we
do we escape the increasing hold of technology which dominates our
time and decreases our effectiveness? How can we prevent the
countless distractions from our intended task?
control the Info-Maniac in all of us. And we can start by resisting
the intrusion of our multitasking lifestyle in our relationships,
both at work and at home. This means, first, that we must learn to
control our impulses and our use of technology, rather than letting
both control us.
first step should be to “cease and desist” from multitasking when
with family. Children are savvy beings who notice when the adults
in their lives are constantly distracted. They respond to their
parents’ lack of focus by tuning into their iPod, leaving family
communication in everyone’s wake.
work relationships are suffering as well. According to the HP
study, 89 percent of workers find it rude when their colleagues
answer e-mails during meetings. And how many of us have simmered
silently through lunches while colleagues take incoming cell phone
a few short years, we have allowed technology to profoundly alter
our lives, and the pace of change is unlikely to abate. We are
living in a fast-paced, computer-driven world of You Tube, My Space,
and Facebook, and where Time Magazine recognized America’s obsession
with technology by naming us all its “Person of the Year.” There
will always be tasks to juggle, e-mail to read, text messages to
answer, and, invariably, the teenage love affair with instant
messaging will be discovered and adapted into the workplace.
that glorifying our frenetic pace and multitasking abilities,
perhaps we should try to recognize and reward mindful behaviors that
make other people feel like more than an intrusion on our to-do
list. Imagine if we actually start to pay attention to the present,
rather than fruitlessly try to get a jump on the future. Focusing
on the here and now should be the reality, not a luxury.
to be mindful that our face-to-face interactions will always
matter. Our families and our colleagues need to know we can be
singularly accessible to them. If we are not careful, however, too
much multitasking will make us forget.
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