Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Myth of Multitasking

First off, happy belated V-day everyone! Sorry we missed Monday's post. To be perfectly honest, we have no good excuse for missing the post besides the two of us decided to let ourselves recover a bit (we're both fighting off colds, or the flu, or something) and to rest and spend some quality time together. We have to practice what we preach (ie. sustainability) sometimes. Sorry again!

And now to your regularly scheduled blog post:

As much as our society might seem to value people who can multitask well, it actually turns out that multitasking isn't really all what it's cracked up to be. As told by Jon Hamilton on NPR, researchers from the University of Michigan have found that humans cannot truly multitask - that is, we cannot actually focus on more than one thing at a time.

What? But you listen to music and drive a car and drink your coffee all at the same time, right? Well, sort of. It turns out that we actually have to switch our attention at super-quick speeds back and forth and back and forth again. We're not actually listening to music and driving and talking all at the same time.

Would you like an experiment? Go put on a radio program like Radiolab, or Snap Judgment, and then try to read a book for 10 minutes or so.

How'd it go? Chances are you probably are either on the same sentence (or at least the same page) that you started on, and you remember all the awesomeness that are Radiolab and Snap Judgment, or you aren't sure what was said on the radio and you're a few pages in.

You've just shown yourself what these researchers have figured out - that we can't actually devote our attention to more than one thing. If we do, we are actually switching our attention back and forth and back and forth rapidly. That's why when we're painting and listening to music, sometimes the music will stop and we won't even notice it because we're so focused on painting and not the music.

So what does this have to do with making art? Well, it comes down to focus. If you've ever talked to Monkey, he seems about the most unfocused person in history. Besides juggling multiple projects (running a gallery, a screenprinting business, his own personal gallery art, school, a part-time job, etc.), he's constantly brainstorming new ideas to innovate current projects and coming up with new projects. And yes, Monkey admits that his biggest problem is his lack of focus on a single thing.

And here we come to the moral of the story - practice focusing. It's fine to be busy and to juggle multiple things, but as our little experiment (and the big one that the University of Michigan researchers did) shows, to really multitask we're constantly jumping back and forth from one thing to another. As good as we might be at this, we're actually being less effective than if we just sat down and tackled each task in turn.

So while learning painting, woodworking, opera singing, and dancing is great (and even encouraged!), we don't advocate trying to handle this all at once. You'll do both of them poorly, and you'll learn much slower than if you took a set amount of time and focused on one skill intensely for a small amount of time.

When we're trying to work, we're constantly jumping back and forth between blogs, and facebook, and emails, and news articles, etc. etc. You'll work much more efficiently and effectively if you just read all the news articles and get it out of your system. Then read your blogs, check FB, write your emails, and then get down to work. Really, if you have to get all that out of the way first, then do so, but handle one task at a time and you'll be better off for it.

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