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Mind-numbing Multi-tasking?

November 28, 2007

I multi-task with the best of you, but sometimes I wonder if my multi-tasking is less efficient than I’d like to think. In fact, I often wonder if by spinning in the information age, responding to emails, blogs, IMs, cell calls, text messages, and the old phone, I am slipping in my ability to concentrate on one thing, to have sustained, fruitful reflection on important issues and topics like my marriage, spiritual life, parenting, etc.

In a 2006 article entitled, “The Multitasking Generation” Time magazine outlined some of the dangers of multi-tasking. What do you think? Do you struggle? What are your solutions? Here are a few observations/reflections from the article:

Drawbacks to Multitasking

  • Its Just Inefficient: “When people try to perform two or more related tasks either at the same time or alternating rapidly between them, errors go way up, and it takes far longer—often double the time or more—to get the jobs done than if the were done sequentially.” – David E. Meyer, Dir of the Brain, Cognition and Action Lab at Univ of Michigan.
  • Loss of Sustained Logic: Full length books infrequently assigned at Duke University.  Students write internally coherent paragraphs but don’t sustain arguments or sustained line of thinking well
  • Community Decay: Disruption of family and community life. With all the media distractions, family dinners seem to be virtually gone from the fabric of American life.
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3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 28, 2007 10:58 am

    I resonate with ‘loss of sustained logic’ or as you said ‘sustained fruitful reflection.’ At any given time I can be distracted or distract myself from the task at hand. Either by starting a new one or adding one to the mix.

    One solution is planned periodic technology fasting. My laptop is one of my worst enemies. I could be working on some teaching project and instantaneously wonder how much is that new Brian Regan DVD. So I stop my study and surf the net and find out. And while I’m there I might check out my fav blogs. Meanwhile, I just hijacked my own scheduled appointment. And my attention diverted. So…I’m working on a few solutions.

    1. Jot down non-urgent, unrelated ideas tasks to deal with at a later time.
    2. If your work doesn’t require online, turn off your wireless.
    3. If you’re reading a book/article, close your laptop.
    4. Let your cell phone go to voicemail. More often than not it can wait.
    5. Daily set, define, and complete a set of manageable goals.

    Thanks for the reminder and challenge.

  2. November 28, 2007 4:17 pm

    Helpful points,josh. thanks

  3. December 2, 2007 8:35 pm

    My take: Multitasking is an illusion (for man anyway). I may pretend to multitask, like answering emails and watching the football game, but to be honest, I am only really doing one thing at any given second. In reality, I just keep interrupting one thing for another thing. Eventually I notice the game and wonder when the Cowboys went up another 7 points, or I notice that my simple email response is taking 27 minutes because I keep starting over.

    Believe it or not, the classic leadership book “The Effective Executive” was helpful for me.

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