Have you ever found yourself attending a conference call, answering e-mail e posting your thoughts on twitter at the same time? Current working environment, matrix organizations and technology, require people to perform a series of activities in very short time.
What you might assume is that multitasking is one of the key skills if you want to survive in contemporary jungle. Ladies think that multitasking is their prerogative. What probably you don’t know is that, trying to do two (or more) cognitive things at the same time is not as productive as it might seem (and it is true for both genders).
In fact, neuroscience studies proved that attempt to mental multitask does not only implicate a significant drop of performance by increasing the number of mistakes, but affects also the way the brain works.
When we need to pay attention, a specific area of the brain called “prefrontal cortex” starts working. Studies conduced by neuroscientist Etienne Koechlin show that when the left and right part of the prefrontal cortex are engaged in different tasks, they would focus in different areas, increasing the number of errors.
The phenomenon, known as “dual task interference”, was studied by scientist Harold Pashler. He found out that when doing two cognitive tasks at the same time, the cognitive capacity of a brilliant MBA student would become similar to the one of a little kid.
If that is true, how it is possible that we’re able to speak on the phone while driving back home or eat, watch TV and answering to text messages all at the same time? Our brain learns by repetitions and creates patterns that require less engagement from the prefrontal cortex. So, it might be easy enough to speak to someone while we are driving back home following always the same route. It becomes much harder to perform the same activity if the place we are driving to is not familiar. Prefrontal cortex would be in action and an easy task as speaking to someone next to you, would turn out to be quite complicated if you don’t want to miss the right turn.
In addition, by switching continuously from one task to another, we are putting our brain under a lot of pressure, with the effect of becoming mentally extremely tired.
Therefore, to improve performance, you better concentrate only on one cognitive task at the time. When your full attention is required, switch off your phone (just the little red light of Blackberry would be enough to take away your attention) and take your technology offline. If you have to do more than one thing at the same time, have one of the two activities to be a routine one. Less multitasking, more performance.
Sources: David Rock, Summer Allen, Sam Wang