By: Melissa Healy, LA Times
Monday, July 19, 2004
Professor David Meyer's research on multitasking is In the News again! Meyer's research has received attention from across the globe.
July 19, 2004
We're just not wired to do so much at once, as stress and mistakes show.
Executives revel in it. Parents with jobs and children rely on it. And circus jugglers make it art.
Multi-tasking, for most Americans, has become a way of life. Doing many things at once is the way we manage demands bearing down on us at warp speed, tame a plague of helpful technological devices and play enough roles — parent, coach, social secretary, executive — to stage a Broadway show.
But researchers peering into the brains of those engaged in several tasks at once are concluding what some overworked Americans had begun to suspect: that multi-tasking, which many have embraced as the key to success, is instead a formula for shoddy work, mismanaged time, rote solutions, stress and forgetfulness. Not to mention car crashes, kitchen fires, forgotten children, near misses in the skies and other dangers of inattention.
So turn off the music, hang up the phone, pull over to the side of the road and take note: When it comes to using your brain to conduct several tasks at one time, "there is no free lunch," says University of Michigan psychologist David E. Meyer. For all but the most routine tasks — and few mental undertakings are truly routine — it will take more time for the brain to switch among tasks than it would have to complete one and then turn to the other.
When the two get squished together, each will be shortchanged, resulting in errors.
And a prolonged jag of extreme multi-tasking, warns Meyer, may lead to a shorter attention span, poorer judgment and impaired memory. A Clint Eastwood fan and admitted poor multi-tasker, Meyer likes to quote Dirty Harry, confronting his nemesis on a pier in one climactic scene: " 'A man's got to know his limitations,' " Meyer says, adding, "and that's basically the deal with multi-tasking. If you try to go beyond them, you just screw yourself up royally."
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