We've all been there before. You're out having what you think is a nice meal with someone, and then the inevitable happens: the vibration on the table that can't be ignored. It can be anything from an "urgent" call to a "How R U?" text. Even after your company apologises for the intrusion, you can't help but notice his eyeballs always on the phone, checking for that red dot. You might call this behavior rude, but he insists he's listening and credits his mastery of multitasking.
But in truth, it's a barrier in the way of our ability to listen and focus, not to mention the
onset of new social norms that permit distracted behavior - but that's a topic for another time.
The real question is, in the age of effortless information, are we really multitasking as well as
we think we are?
The article explains that reading while listening to music without lyrics is possible because "reading comprehension and processing instrumental music engage different parts of the brain." However, if the music has lyrics, your brain's ability to retain information significantly decreases because both activities involve the language center of the brain. All of those text messages and emails you read on the side are seriously impacting your ability to successfully (and intelligently) respond and participate in meetings, listen to a client, etc.
Additionally, while all of us celebrate our ability to multitask, it's really "serial" tasking
that we're doing. In effect, we're requiring our brain to act like a teenager learning to drive a
five-speed: We're shifting gears quickly and abruptly, and slamming on the brakes in the process.
As it sounds, this is not always the best way to get from point A to point B.
The only solution? If you need to get things done, turn off all non-essential devices. Unless you're the president or expecting to deliver a baby, extemporaneous work (or play) does not need to be tended to in real time.
Try stepping away from your cellphone or social media channels for longer periods of time. Let friends and contacts know that you might be out of pocket for a while, but that you will respond to them within the day.
And perhaps most importantly, focus on one task at a time. We live in a culture that trumpets
the value of doing many things at once - that multitasking is an asset or strength. As noted above,
it only leads to decreased productivity.
So what is to be done? Set ground rules. Establish boundaries. Throughout the day, consciously allocate set amounts of time (whether it's 5 or 25 minutes) to allow your mind to smoothly and successfully focus and transition from one task to another. These periods should also include dedicated time where you can transition among social networks, news, emails and other forms of communication that require using the same part of your brain.
As human beings, we're not programmed or wired or built to take in everything, and when we try, we wind up shooting ourselves in the unproductive foot or making critical mistakes that may cost us, our clients or our employers both money and time.
Source: Nancy Bistritz - Mashable