The mistake of multitasking

exhausted womanOur minds are busier than ever before, constantly bombarded with facts and fictions throughout the day. Trying to assess what’s useful and important, and what’s not, leaves us exhausted.

And technology doesn’t help. In fact, it’s adding to the busyness, as we try to cram more and more things in – answering calls, sending texts, checking emails, making lists, updating Facebook – at every available opportunity.

Divided attention

We might think we’re being productive by multitasking but it’s an illusion, and it comes at a price. Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at MIT and one of the world experts on divided attention, says that our brains are “not wired to multitask”.

When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.

Multitasking has been shown to increase production of the stress hormone, cortisol, as well as adrenaline, leading to overstimulation and causing ‘mental fog’, or scrambled thinking.

exhausted manThe cost of rapidly and continuously switching attention causes the brain to burn up the very fuel it needs to stay on task, leaving us exhausted and disorientated. This can seriously impair performance, physical and cognitive.

So, even if we think we’re getting more done, ironically, multitasking makes us demonstrably less efficient.

How mindfulness can help

Mindfulness can help us to cope better with the multitude of tasks we’re expected to manage throughout the day, by increasing our ability to pay attention and focus on the task, as well as remaining calm under pressure.

By being more mindful we can avoid the mistake of multitasking, and the (sometimes serious) consequences to our health and wellbeing.

The Organized Mind

Based on an extract from the book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel J Levitin, which appeared in The Observer on Sunday 18th January 2015.

For mindfulness classes and courses in your area see the Liverpool, Sefton, Knowsley and Wirral pages for details.

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