Saturday, May 3, 2014

Multi-taskers, beware!

 If nothing else, the Rain Man could focus. 

Turns out, multi-tasking is a bust anyway.  Research now shows that multi-taskers get less done, are crabbier and frequently irritate those around them.

That was me back in the days of my employment.  Or as we say in English, “That was I.” 

Now, in my leisure, I’m a ray of sunshine.

When I was working I felt tremendously important to be so extremely busy.  Oh, the hectic life!  Don’t you wish you were like me?  Look!  Look how harried I am!  So sorry you aren’t stretched like the elastic in your grandma’s underpants. 

On any given day, I switched between making to-do lists and crossing items off again, to checking email, writing memos, running meetings, having impromptu phone consultations and just generally ping ponging around the joint.  

To a detached observer – say a white-coated lab geek with a clipboard – I might have looked like Groucho Marx in that movie where he and his brothers go in and out of doors in a common hallway, knocking skulls, creating a commotion, honking horns and meeting each other coming and going.

Thank goodness those who worked with me bought into the multi-tasking = efficient myth!  Or at least I think they did.

Now the word is out – that frenetic MO is more mentally draining and less effective than rearranging one bureaucratic piece of paperwork at a time.

In her book Overwhelmed: Work, Love,and Play When No One Has the Time, Brigid Schulte reports that today, people in the workplace say they’re too busy to do pretty much everything including eat lunch, make friends, date and sleep – they’re even too busy to have sex!

Now wait just a minute!  Some things are sacred!  When’s the last time you went without a little shut-eye?

A niece of mine is still in the workforce and moving up the ranks in her company.  She posts her corporate life on Facebook and recently mentioned that she’d had a sleepless night.  I was about to express sympathy – I used to wake up routinely at 2:36am and thrash through the agenda for my upcoming day until the alarm went off at five. 

But before I could formulate my comment, one of her friends retorted, “Sleep is for the weak!” 

There it is.  No sympathy.  Keep up or die!  Multi-taskers have the mentality of predators.  Or self-preserving prey animals that panic and leave their co-workers behind to be consumed by god-knows-what if they slow down or show vulnerability.    

Schulte cites psychologists who write of treating burned-out clients who can’t relinquish the notion that the busier you are, the more you are thought of as competent, smart, successful, admired and even envied.

But in fact, multi-tasking makes you dumber — dumber than being drunk or stoned.  Studies have shown that no two tasks done simultaneously can be done with 100 percent of one’s ability.  

It’s true – I had to quit looking at my cell phone in the car, even at a stop sign, the day I realized that each time I picked up that glorious gadget, I also relaxed my foot off the brake!

Furthermore, the distractions from too many things going on at once hamper a person’s “spam filter.”  Multi-taskers lose the ability to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information.  Put bluntly, multitasking makes you stupid.

And worse, neuroscientists have found that so much distraction shrinks your prefrontal cortex!  That’s the seat of human intelligence!  When a human being feels pressed for time and overwhelmed, that part of her brain curls into a fetal position and cries, “Mama!”

Uh oh.  You don’t suppose that’s irreversible, do you?  I mean, all those years looking smart but getting dumber?  My prefrontal cortex withering.  

Or is this just it?  Am I done with the gray matter?  Gone, gone, gone?  Like tooth enamel, irretrievable. 

All those Words with Friends to no avail.  Games on Lumosity…?  Just getting good at the games!? 

No worries.  Smaller brain, fewer demands.  And I’m pretty darn adept at the short list of tasks I approach on any given day, one-by-one, in sequence.

First I wake up and read my book.  Then I have a cup of coffee.  Next I might take a walk.  And before you know it – one minute to Wapner!