What if we get our attention back?

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What if we get our attention back?

Vanessa Baird writes about being true to our brains.


Credit: Jason Strull/Unsplash

‘I’m multitasking here! I am doing two or more things at once!’ How often have you heard it – or how often have you said it?

When people say that, they often smile because they are pleased with themselves. ‘Look, I am a clever/busy/important person! Look how much I can do at once!’

Brain science tells a different story.

More and more studies show that multitasking is the wrong name for it and it’s not really true. ‘Multitasking’ means we are quickly changing from one task to another. And it doesn’t make us cleverer. It makes us more stressed, more likely to make mistakes, and less intelligent, too.

We might not believe this but the brain is not a multitasking machine. Yes, it can listen to something and look at something and put them together, for example.

But the brain is more like a spotlight. When you need to pay attention, the prefrontal cortex of the brain begins working. This helps you to think about one thing and to do that by co-ordinating messages with other parts of the brain.

When we work on one thing, it means both sides of the prefrontal cortex are working together. If we add another task, it forces the left and right sides of the brain to work independently – and badly. Scientists at the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale in Paris asked people to do two tasks at the same time. They forgot details and made three times as many mistakes.

Doing simple things like eating and walking at the same time is a lot easier for the prefrontal cortex than texting and driving at the same time. Texting and driving is like driving while drunk, by the way.

Multitasking makes us less capable and it may also lower our IQ. A London University study found that when adults ‘multitask’, their IQ drops 15 points. This leaves them with the average IQ of an eight-year-old. Remember that next time you’re reading your Twitter feed in a meeting!

A Stanford University study showed that people who thought they were good at multitasking were even worse at it than people who thought they were not!

It is more worrying that studies suggest that multitasking is doing brain damage. Researchers at the UK’s University of Sussex compared the time people spend on multiple devices (such as texting while watching TV) to MRI scans of their brains. They found that high multitaskers had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex. This is a part of the brain for empathy and cognitive and emotional control.

So, who gets something from the multitasking idea? Some employers may think they do. It seems to be a good thing like flexibility and zero-hour contracts, as a way of making workers do more for less pay. And the people who write books about multitasking that gets into every part of our lives every moment of our lives and make us believe the idea of multitasking even more.

How can we forget about this crazy idea of multitasking and get our attention back?

It’s easy, in theory. In reality, the idea has already made many bad habits. But we could give periods of time to certain tasks and not move from one task to another. One task, then another...

We could switch off our screens or spend less time on screens. Be careful about what social media we use and reserve time away from them.

Rob Hopkins has a new book From What Is To What if…. It says if we multitask and check our emails a lot, we lose intelligence like being very, very tired or smoking marijuana. A Loughborough University study found that after reading an email for about two minutes, it took people 68 seconds to return to their work and remember what they were doing. So we waste about 28 per cent of our working day like this. One business teacher says check emails no more than three times a day.

Face-to-face conversations might be better if we do not check our devices all the time.

Finally, fear of boredom is what makes people into multitasking addicts. But boredom has a good reason, writes Hopkins. ‘Our minds want some kind of stimulation. But there is none. Boredom gives us a chance to act, a moment to think, to fire our imagination, to daydream.’

Now there’s a thought… . NOW READ THE ORIGINAL:


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)