Multitasking is a lie, claims Gary Keller in one chapter of his provocative book The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results.
In 2009 Clifford Nass, a professor at Stanford University, tested 262 students for how successful multitasking was for them. Nass concluded: “…high multitaskers are suckers for irrelevancy … Multitaskers were just lousy at everything.”
“To do two things at once is to do neither,” said Publilius Syrus, probably frustrated by trying to pronounce his name five times in a row really fast.
“Multitasking is merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time” cleverly concurs Steve Uzzell. A Russian proverb says if you chase two rabbits, you will catch neither.
Since the 1920s psychologists have studied the ability of humans to do more than one thing at a time. But the term multitasking originated in the 1960s describing the ability of computers to accomplish mind-boggling calculations. Keller points out that the computer is actually doing only one piece of code at a time — alternately sharing the CPU not simultaneously.
For humans inundated with an average of 4,000 thoughts a day, so a change of thought every 14 seconds, Keller says it’s natural to think you need to multitask. Especially when it’s being demanded by employers and by our gadgets.
Poet laureate Billy Collins says of multitasking that “A Buddhist would call this monkey mind” — driving ourselves bananas!
Safety experts are trying to ban cell phones and texting while driving, claiming that even an idle conversation takes a 40% bite out of your focus — or whatever car you’re wrecking!
Keller argues that “At home or at work, distractions lead to poor choices, painful mistakes and unnecessary stress.”
My best friend dismisses the male author’s attack on multitasking, believing that women are intended to do it for the sake of their kids and family.
“Hey, I can walk, talk and chew gum at the same time. This is crazy talk!” you might be arguing. Keller counters that those kind of automatic responses are not directed from the same part of the brain where you must focus to accomplish important matters. The whole book is a good study, urging us to figure out what matters most and letting nothing distract us from that.
In our spiritual life Matt. 6:33 states plainly what “the one thing” should be. Hope you’ll look it up because instead of choosing that, the rich young ruler walked away sad because his was his money (Lk. 18:18-25). The Bible guides us about priorities and making good choices each day (Deut. 30:19-20).
Maybe it’s time to sit down, shut up and put the gum on the bedpost if there’s some way we’re living a lie.
FUN FACT: Multitasking has become so mainstream, but we moose in the bog aren’t about to give in to the pressure. We stop while eating to listen to our surroundings.