Don't Use Up All Your Energy Multitasking
Heavy multitaskers become worse at the very thing that they should be very good at.
Maria Konnikova is the New York Times bestselling author of The Confidence Game (Viking/Penguin 2016) and Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes (Viking/Penguin, 2013). She is a contributing writer for The New Yorker, where she writes a regular column with a focus on psychology and culture, and her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, California Sunday, Pacific Standard, The New Republic, WIRED, and The Smithsonian, among numerous other publications. Maria is a recipient of the 2015 Harvard Medical School Media Fellowship, and is a Schachter Writing Fellow at Columbia University’s Motivation Science Center. She formerly wrote the “Literally Psyched” column for Scientific American and the popular psychology blog “Artful Choice” for Big Think. She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, where she studied psychology, creative writing, and government, and received her Ph.D. in Psychology from Columbia University.
We know that attention is an incredibly finite resource. So there’s really only so much of it to go around and we can train our attention so that we become better but will never be able to make it infinite.
And so one of the things that task switching does is use up mental energy so you need resources to switch your focus from one thing to another and the theory is actually very simple: the more your mind is doing, the more resources it needs. And so every time you switch your attention you’re actually switching circuits, you’re switching your focus, you’re switching the neural mechanisms behind it and that expends energy. Literally you can replenish it by having glucose or other things that actually boost your energy levels. So it’s a very, very literal thing that happens.
Your brain is actually getting tired, you’re actually losing resources and you’re actually becoming less able to do other things because you use those resources for the task switching now you no longer have them to pay attention to the tasks that you’re doing.
There’s a lot really interesting work that shows that people who multitask frequently are less efficient at task switching because they don’t know how to take those resources and really use them to their full potential. I think this is really fascinating because it ends up that heavy multitaskers become worse at the very thing that they should be very good at.
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