Lesson 82: Theres no such thing as multitasking

Published 2:54 pm Thursday, July 15, 2010

There is enough time for everything in the course of a day if you do but one thing at once; but there is not time enough in the year if you will do two things at a time.

Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield

A young man I know was in a job interview. He had

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applied to be an assistant principal at a middle school, a job that required a variety of tasks, some of which had to be done almost simultaneously.

How many things can you do at once? the interviewer asked. Just one, replied the applicant. But I can do it well. He got the job.

The truth is, you can do only one thing at a time. Just as the eye can focus on only one spot at a time, the human brain can concentrate on only one cognitive task during any given moment.

With modern technology, people seem to think that they can do several things at once: answer a phone call while sending an email and surfing the Internet, for example.

It makes us feel more productive almost superhuman.

But its a myth. Research studies have shown that trying to do two things at once

diminishes the quality of each task and actually reduces speed. But you dont need a research study to know that. If youve ever tried to do two things at once, you know that it doesnt work. Its not just you

nobody is superhuman.

Modern technology has enabled us to do several things in rapid succession. Years

ago, when you wanted to call someone while you were in

the car, you had to drive around until you found a phone booth

and hope you had a quarter. Today, you simply pick up your cell phone and make the call.

The problem is that if youre driving while talking on

the phone, youre bound to be distracted. When it comes to causing traffic accidents, distracted driving is almost as dangerous as speeding

or driving drunk. And its not just cell phone usage that causes wrecks: turning to talk with passengers, operating a PDA, composing text messages, and fiddling with the navigation system all represent life-threatening forms of multitasking when combined with driving.

Take this advice: Dont try to do several things at once. Do one thing well and quickly, if you have to then go on to the next task. Youll get more done, do it better, and hopefully live to handle tomorrows tasks as well.

Excerpted from The Graduates Book of Practical Wisdom: 99 Lessons They Cant Teach in School by C. Andrew Millard, published by Morgan James Publishing, available in bookstores and online. &opy; 2008 by C. Andrew Millard; all rights reserved. For more information visit www.wisegraduate.com.