Don't Use Up All Your Energy Multitasking

Heavy multitaskers become worse at the very thing that they should be very good at. 

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. 

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.

This is the best (and simplest) world map of religions

Both panoramic and detailed, this infographic manages to show both the size and distribution of world religions.

(c) CLO / Carrie Osgood
Strange Maps
  • At a glance, this map shows both the size and distribution of world religions.
  • See how religions mix at both national and regional level.
  • There's one country in the Americas without a Christian majority – which?
Keep reading Show less
Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Do human beings have a magnetic sense? Biologists know other animals do. They think it helps creatures including bees, turtles and birds navigate through the world.

Keep reading Show less