You can multitask. Sometimes.
Apparently we cannot multitask. Some research has shown that our minds are designed to focus on one thing, and one thing only. This is not entirely true – so we’d like to qualify this statement. You can multitask, sometimes, but first, we need to explain how your brain works:
Geography: Firstly, your brain is divided into several geographic territories. You have some territories dedicated to running, others to seeing, and others to feeling.
Function: Secondly, your brain operates in 2 different ways or ‘states’:
One is is the active, attentive function. The CEO of the brain. This is the one that builds new patterns. This function also requires more energy, which is why you need to feed your brain glucose when you’re studying.
The other is the function is the autopilot function. This part runs on low energy, and can usually continue without your conscious attention.
It it at this intersection that multitasking comes in. Everybody does it – male or female. You’re very effectively reading this article, while sipping your coffee, while thinking about what’s for lunch, while picking up half of the conversation your colleague is sharing, while reaching for your phone which blinked in the corner of your eye, while…while…while…
When Multitasking does NOT work:
Although it’s possible to multitask, we need to understand how it works, and in which situations we should rather not try it:
As long as the autopilot-function is turned ON on a particular activity (such as sipping coffee), your brain can pay active attention to some other, new activity (reading this article). You can multitask activities that aren’t competing for the same territory in your brain. For example : your peripheral vision can spot your phone’s blinking light, while central vision takes in the information on this page. However, you cannot engage a myriad of information with your central vision.
Technically, there are multiple activities running simultaneously. However, your primary, focused attention: the CEO of your mind; jumps between these, checking in on all the autopilot-processes one at a time.
What are the implications on me?
Your brain multitasks all the time, because a lot of processes simply run automatically. It’s only your “focused attention-bit” / CEO that can’t handle more than one thing at a time: the same function of the brain that works to build new systems. Here are some principles to use multitasking effectively:
Principle: 10 simple, autopilot-activities can easily be juggled, but when you have to pay attention, you need all the attention of the CEO.
Action: Don’t multitask (AKA : let your attention jump between activities), if you want to learn something new. Switch phones off, get into a quiet room, do focus-exercises, and dedicate a slot of time to do only this one thing.
Principle: When you’re in multitasking-mode, with your brain-CEO jumping between activities, it can be difficult to re-focus again on a single, complex task.
Action: Doing attention-exercises before you tackle a complicated, new activity, may help prime your mind to pay more focused attention.
Principle: Multitasking can be extremely beneficial : a mom would never get her 2- and 5-year old to school in one piece (or, rather, two wholes) if her mind wasn’t hopping between multiple activities.
Action: It can be difficult for a mom to take on an occupation requiring dedicated, focused attention while she has kids. That’s why scheduling & dividing her time can help her manage her two different brain-states effectively.
Different Minds for different Kinds:
Just like you tend to get sprinters in one corner, and body-builders in the other, you often get ‘multitaskers’ in one corner, and ‘focused-attentioners’ in the other. Although we like to encourage people to live from their strengths, it is also beneficial to develop the skill you are less comfortable with. This way, the multitask-mom can wear her actuary hat when the kids are at school, and the focused-attention-accountant can join his wife to juggle house-hold activities when he gets home.
*We previously thought that once a certain part of the brain is lobotomized, you lose whatever function it fulfilled. Today, we know that the brain is actually neuroplastic: it continually shapes & reshapes. Although one area is usually dedicated to one particular function, it’s more pliable than previously believed. It is possible – within certain parameters – for another part of your brain to take over a missing function.
Which brain-state are you prone to function in? Where can you improve?. If you would like additional support, why not schedule a FREE discovery call to learn more about how I can help.