I Can Walk, talk and chew gum at the same time. I can pat my head and rub my belly. Heck, I could even do all five things at the same time and still listen to music. That is multitasking.
The question is: Is it changing the way a think and can I fix it?
A study from Stanford University came out this week that told us we might not be that great a multitasker. It is also suggested multitaskers are not focused. They polled 100 students in where they gave them one of three tests. In one test, they told them to focus on the red rectangle and tell them where it was. The “Heavy” Multitaskers – Those that do 5-6 things at once – did not do that well in the task. They did even worse on the other tests.
It got me to thinking; Are we really not good multitaskers?
I started picking apart this study. The one glaring issue is that the group polled 100 students. I am always amazed on how someone publishes a poll, then says it’s a small group in one demographic. So I beckon you to this question: Could 100 – 30 plusers be better at heavily multitasking than students? What about 50+?
Students usually mean under 30, and we have no idea how many males or females were in this study. Which ones were the “Light” and which were the “Heavy” multitaskers? Further, I am guessing they were all Stamford students. How do we know that New York or Chicago students can’t multitask better?
Then again, maybe Multi-tasking is a learned method.
I remember in the 90’s, Kevin Trudeau put out this program called “Mega Memory”. Now let’s Put aside Kevin Trudeaus’ felony history and dealings with the FTC over his business ventures – In this case, not being able to fulfill the guarantee that you would have “Picture perfect” memory. With that aside, this program still had some validity.
Basically, he was teaching you to turn your brain into a filing cabinet. Organize the thoughts in your head by doing some “mental exercises”. In one exercise, he told you to picture a bedroom. Choose five items and repeat the names. Every morning, you mentally see these five items. These will be items you put mental notes on or in – therefore, you have created an organization to your thoughts. I started thinking:
If you can organize your brain to remember stuff? Can you organize to multi – task?
Multi-tasking for a computer is easy – but it does have limitation. We have circumvented some of those limitations by making faster processors and multi-core technologies so you don’t constantly max the same area of the processor for long periods of time. That is how newer processors can put out less heat and lower power.
Apply that to multi-tasking. Here are a few “Suggestions” to maybe work on how to multi-task. Before we do that, I would like you to take 3 deep breaths. Breathe in.. hold it…. Slowly Exhale. Again – And one more time.
- Set time to focus on one thing and one thing only.
- Schedule work – rest times
- Can eating / drinking right help?
- If you feel out of control, you probably are.
- Mental Imagery
I set some time aside to do this. This is not sleep time and it’s not “Think about everything in the world” time. I have a task at hand and I do it – like writing this article. This task sometimes may be listening to other podcasts, writing a journal or blog, you can do a crossword puzzle or Sudoku, you can calculate pi – as long as it’s one task. By the way – I discourage the use of music in the background of that task. If you need noise, turn on a fan, mp3 of running water or waves. Nothing that can disturb your focus.
I remember a study years ago where they suggested teachers should organize the hour that they teach the subject. It was suggested that the teacher talk for about 25 minutes. They then stop and give you 5 minutes to decompress. No notes, no nothing – just mental catch-up.
Now let’s apply that to any item of work. 25 minutes, with a 5 minute decompress. Stand up, walk around, get a cup of coffee or soda. Sit back down, take 3 deep breaths and start up again.
By the way, taking 3 deep breaths is important. There are known connections with breathing and stress. Further, you get more oxygen to your brain – Think of it like your heat sink to your processor.
I don’t want to become your family doctor, or even play that roll on TV. But studies say eating right and at least drinking lots of water can help you out. Don’t worry, it’s something I have to work on, too. I just had a frozen pizza and Mountain Dew for lunch.
Multitasking is not a race. Therefore, if you are feeling stressed, even after the 3 deep breaths, then you should probably ease off on one of the tasks. Maybe come back to it in 5 minutes. Get a stride going where you can pick it back up.
I suggest you apply the method I talked about earlier in a different way. Think of 5 things that don’t change in your life – Your car, your house, your garage – whatever it is, mentally visualize those 5 things. Once a day – preferably in the morning – close your eyes, take 3 deep breaths and visualize those items. Take a few seconds to mentally move around the item you are picturing. For instance, if your car is one, notice the tires. Are the doors locked? What’s in the back seat? If you visualize the kitchen, where is the silverware drawer? Where is the fridge? What’s in the fridge?
Bottom line is that we have come into an age where multi-tasking is a norm, but we never really take a class on how to do it well. Some people are natural at it. Others may need a little direction. That’s ok though – I really believe that multi-tasking is a learned thing. Just like riding a bike.
By the way, the mega memory did help – I can do a decent job in remembering a persons’ name and applied some of the techniques of the “Human Calculator” that he touted back in the 90’s to actually be able to solve mathematical problems in my head. I guess it’s all about learning how to do it.