By: Rachel Emma Silverman, The Wall Street Journal
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
During the South by Southwest Interactive conference earlier this month, I moderated a panel about a subject dear to many Jugglers? hearts: multitasking.
The session, called ?Your Brain on Multitasking,? looked at the ways our minds and bodies react to doing multiple tasks in close proximity to one another. The panelists addressed some solutions to help us minimize multitasking and, if need be, multitask more successfully. The panel featured University of Michigan cognitive psychologist David Meyer, University of California, San Francisco neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley and Peter Bregman, author of the time-management book ?18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done.”?
Some facts about multitasking:
? Scientists have found little evidence that women are better multitaskers than men, or vice versa.
? Performance suffers if you attempt two or more tasks that require the same brain functions. Most of us, for instance, can fold laundry and listen to music at the same time or walk and chew gum. But driving while talking on the phone or texting requires using the same cognitive functions, as does sending a tweet while listening to a conference call while reading emails and websites. In the case of driving, the results can be fatal.? So don?t do it.
? In adults, multitasking ability declines with age. People in their early 20s tend to be the best multitaskers and the biggest decline is between ages 20 and 30.
? There is evidence that multitasking ability can be improved with practice. Scientists are experimenting with videogames to boost multitasking ability in seniors and the results are promising.
One thing the panelists discussed was how our fast-paced and high-pressured work environments often lead us to multitask, so we find ourselves toggling between? multiple monitors at our desks as well as our mobiles to take in huge streams of information.
According to time-management pro Bregman, it?s incredibly tempting to multitask when we are surrounded by a plethora of distracting tech devices. We can?t rely on will power alone so the best way to focus on a single task is to change our environment. For instance, if you need to write, temporarily disable your Web browser so you are not checking tweets while attempting to complete a report.
Another way to be conscious of chronic multitasking: Set a timer every hour. Pause and note all the tasks you are doing at that moment. Ask yourself: ?Am I doing what I most need to do right now?? Bregman even suggests creating a ?to don?t? list–avoiding those tasks that are unnecessary or distracting.
Readers, have any of you had any multitasking fails–things that haven?t been done well because you were doing too many things at once? Describe how you are? multitasking right now.