Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Myth of Multi-Tasking

or, Hang Up and Write!

Dr. John J. Medina knows why you haven't finished writing your novel.

Medina -- a developmental molecular biologist, research consultant, affiliate Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine, and the director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University -- has made the study of the human brain his business. Among many of the fascinating things he has discovered about how we assimilate and process information is this salient point:

The brain cannot pay attention to more than one thing at a time.

In other words: multi-tasking is a myth.

Medina's new book Brain Rules: 12 Steps for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, explains that what we call "multi-tasking" is actually "task switching." In order to respond to an IM, for instance, you must first switch from the task at hand -- answering e-mail, doing laundry, talking on the phone, or -- OOoop! -- writing that chapter. Every "switch" takes time. Trying to simultaneously do many things requires multiple switches, which can actually make us less productive instead of more so.

In the Real World, our inability to pay attention to more than one thing at a time is the reason that talking on a cell phone significantly elevates a driver's risk of being involved in an accident.

In the Writer's World, this explains why I can spend an entire day "working" -- answering e-mails, sending out queries, teleconferencing, networking, doing research, making notes -- but not get any actual writing accomplished.

If I understand Medina correctly, the way to get more of my writing accomplished is to ::gulp:: take my mom's advice from when I was in school: turn off the music, stop passing notes to my friends, get off the phone, and get to work.

My novel calls. Gonna take Mr. Medina's (and Mom's) advice. How 'bout you?

1 comment:

Chris Rugh said...

Showing that multi-tasking isn't all that efficient and Why multitasking sucks?