Life Coach Magazine

Organizing: Does Multitasking Make You Stupid?

By Writerinterrupted @writerinterrupt

Organizing: Does Multitasking Make You Stupid?Computers are faster and smarter and more efficient than ever. They run at gigahertz speeds, using gigabytes of memory, giving you giga power to get things done. Even so, once in a while, most machines seem to freeze for several seconds, stuck in some mysterious inner world that you know nothing about.

If they’re so fast and so smart, why should they ever freeze like that?

There are several reasons, but one common reason is that your computer is multitasking — it’s doing several things at once, and it’s gotten its scheduling out of whack. It’s forgotten to get back to you, at least for a while.

Multitasking is usually a wonderful thing, especially modern machines with multiple brains. A well-programmed computer with several CPUs can work dramatically faster than a computer with only one, all other things being equal. The problem is that it’s tricky to take account of all possibilities. Once in a while, your computer gets itself tied in a knot and it zones out on you, even with multiple brains. Multitasking occasionally makes your computer stupid.

It’s dangerous to make a direct analogy between computers and human brains, because they really aren’t the same thing. But it does appear that multitasking makes us stupid too. Let’s be clear about one thing — the human brain is a fantastic computing device, capable of doing enormously complex calculations, especially in image-processing and in intuitive situations where logic isn’t enough. So when I use the word “stupid” here, I mean it in a relative sense.

Multitasking makes us less sharp than we would be if we were focusing on only one thing. Most times, this doesn’t matter. Most people most days can walk and chew gum at the same time, and talk on the phone and consume oxygen and watch the ducks build snowmen.

But notice one thing — of the five things I just listed, all but talking on the phone are pretty automatic and don’t require conscious thought. You can walk without thinking about it. Ditto for chewing gum. Ditto oxygen. Ditto the ducks — unless they really are building snowmen. If that’s the case, as soon as your consciousness takes note of the snowmen, the phone discussion is going to shift direction radically. And that’s the point. Once one of your tasks percolates up to the conscious level, you lose the ability to focus on any of the others.

If you Google the phrase, “Does multitasking make you stupid,” you’ll find an amusing array of articles to choose from. (It’s best to read these one at a time.)

Here are some of the things you’ll learn:

* When you’re trying to switch rapidly between several tasks that take conscious thought, you lose efficiency. A lot of efficiency — as much as 30% to 50%.

* Some studies show that when you’re focusing on a task that takes a lot of concentration, an interruption that breaks your focus can cost you about 20 minutes of lost focus. This means that if you get interrupted more often than every 20 minutes, you might NEVER actually get into a deeply focused, productive state.

* Multitasking can actually lower your performance on IQ tests — by about 10 points. Smoking a joint only costs you 4 points. So if you have to choose between multitasking and marijuana, the choice should be clear, although your boss and your government probably see things differently. Bosses and governments love multitasking.

When people say that “multitasking makes you stupid,” all of the above is what they mean.

So what’s a busy writer to do? You can’t shut off the world, can you?

No, but you can shut off some parts of the world. If you’re doing something that takes concentration (such as writing fiction), you can take a few steps to make yourself more productive for a well-defined period of time while you focus:

* Unplug the phone or disable it or feed it to the dog. Do what it takes.

* Close your e-mail program or at least disable it from doing those useless automatic checks every five minutes. The world is not going to end if you don’t get e-mails instantly.

* Shut down all instant-messaging, texting, or anything else that can interrupt you.

* Get a clock with a timer and set it for 50 minutes of uninterrupted writing. Then write.

You can do a lot in 50 minutes of quality, productive, uninterrupted, non-multitasking time. An awful lot.

Many writers find that they write more productively when they’re listening to music. Some writers can’t listen to vocal music but they thrive on instrumental music. I’m the opposite — instrumental music bores me into a potato-like state, but I can write 1000 words per hour with the right kind of vocal music.

Oddly enough, certain European heavy metal groups work best for me. I have no idea why, but it’s a fact that just about any song by Nightwish or Hammerfall or Dragonforce makes me more productive. I discovered them on Pandora.com, a music streaming web site which is smart enough to learn what kind of music you like and bring you more of it.

If music gets you rolling, then find out what works best and use that. Load up your favorite music on your computer, or log into Pandora.com, or just turn on the radio, and then pour out the words.

Writers often ask me what my secret is for being so productive. If I have a secret, it’s this:

Singletasking makes you smart.


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