Andy's Headspace: Multi-Tasking is Dead. Long Live Super-Tasking!
“Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves”, so said Albert Einstein. And I'm inclined to agree. In fact I vividly remember in my early twenties to get my then girlfriend to give me a kiss as she was driving me to work, just shortly before we crashed into the car infront of us. Was it worth it? Maybe, and thankfully no-one was hurt, but it's really just one more example of the human brain struggling to compute with more than one task at one time.
The ability to focus on, to pay attention to, a specific thing, task, or person, is something that we are encouraged to nurture from the very earliest age. And with good reason. But no sooner do we get the hang of this essential skill, our attention is then pushed and pulled in every direction imaginable, as we are encouraged to make the most of our life, to stop wasting valuable time, and to ‘multitask’ instead. We might even be rewarded in some way for doing so - gold star anyone? In fact for many people, this so-called multi-tasking has become a way of life which they are immensely proud of.
And yet the science is quite clear, We can only focus on one thing at one time. When we need to focus on another thing, it requires us to ‘switch’ attention. This in turn leads to a direct reduction in both concentration and performance. So, rather than doing one thing really well, we learn how to do lots of things not very well. But because we get away with it so often, we somehow convince ourselves that multitasking is the way forward. Well, if that sounds like you, it might just be time to hang up the gloves, Take10, and get back to focusing on the one thing that matters - the here and now and the task at hand.
Because the truth is, less than 2.5% of human beings have the ability to focus on more than one thing without adversely affecting performance. These rare individuals have been given the moniker of ‘Super-Taskers’ by the scientists involved in this research. It’s not yet clear why these individuals are so different, but what is clear, is that for most of us, for 97.5% of us, it will be a happier, calmer, more efficient and more productive existence when we do just one thing at a time.
And that is exactly the skill we are learning when we sit to meditate each day, when we remember to be mindful in everyday life. It is a skill far more beneficial than messy multitasking and, unlike super-tasking, it is in reach of us all.