Monday, March 26, 2007

One at a Time


How many of us are congratulating ourselves for our abilities to do more than one thing at once? Kristin told me just the other day how she can read a book while she walks home from the Metro or wherever. I write Blog posts while I am attending meetings these days. Most of the world has a cell phone or an ear pod permanently affixed to their ear.
But yesterday’s article in the NY Times suggests that while we think we are beating the system, the evidence isn’t so convincing. The article offered several simple pieces of advice:
(1) Check e-mail messages only once an hour.
(2) Listening to soothing background music while studying is fine, but avoid songs with words.
(3) Driving while talking on a cell phone, even with a hands-free headset, is a bad idea.
These are suggestions for managing technology, not eliminating it, as it lures us to click and dial and tune in.
This all has to do with how our brains function. We simply are not able to concentrate on two things at once. One is always getting short shrift. Studies at Vanderbilt University showed much better results for both children and adults who were given tasks sequentially as opposed to at the same time. Surprisingly even though older people think more slowly, they seem better equipped to block out interruptions and choose what to focus on. The real problem comes in how long it takes people to get back on task after they are diverted.
We are still in our infancy in terms of learning how to manage and utilize all the various forms of technology at our fingertips. But we must be respectful of the brain’s ability to deal with this barrage of information if we are to manage digital communication efficiently.
I’m trying the once an hour e-mail check today as a first attempt at putting this into practice.

9 Comments:

Blogger Kate said...

I have been doing the once an hour or once an hour and half check on email for aeons. I decided one day that I was too attached to the "blip" that indicated "you have mail"!

It is truly freeing...........however I have one office mate (who sits across from me) who became very annoyed that I would not respond to her instantaneously and she finally confronted me about it. I told her: "I only check my email once an hour; if you have a question for me that needs an immediate response either "shout it out" or come over and ask or.........call me over and ask."

It is truly liberating!

:)

5:04 PM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

I can't multi-task at all! I end up going around in circles. Some teachers and mothers are but not me. I can get really hooked on e-mail!

The picture here is hilarious!

5:20 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I do read and walk, but not to save time. I love books. I am a ridiculous multitasker. I have multiple computers at work because just one is not fast enough, but I love the days that I unplug completely. It's so... liberating.

8:34 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

Speaking of the picture.......which MOI did.......it reminds me of the origin of the saying "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater." In the middle ages people apparently bathed infrequently and usually the whole family bathed the same night or day. The tub would be filled with heated water. First the father would bathe, then the mother, then each child by age and finally the baby.........ergo...

The pictured baby will end up with a dishpan tush methinks. :)

9:39 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kate -- E-mail is a both a blessing and a curse. Unfortunately it has cut down on a lot of face-to-face contact that sometimes added a more personal element to communication. I agree about the poor shriveled up baby...

MOI -- You obviously didn't need the NY Times to figure this out. And, yes, I obviously liked the picture too!

Kristin -- I still can't imagine taking 5 steps while reading a book on Capitol Hill with its uneven sidewalks without falling on my face. More power to you! I do understand using more than one computer, although I can multitask with just one computer.

9:50 PM  
Blogger Pauline said...

I must be the plodder of the group - generally I like to do one thing at a time but make exceptions when I'm in a hurry. I find, though, that when I do multi-task, something always suffers, usually me!

And I check my email twice a DAY - must be because I don't work in an office...

7:24 AM  
Blogger Ulysses said...

I think you will find that the best way to do something depends on the test that is given. If you're going to be expected to perform in a quiet, sequential task, you should practice quietly and sequentially. If you are going to be asked to perform in a divided attention task in a distracting environment, you should practice under those conditions.
As to being attached to technology, the world shouldn't expect to be able to get in touch with me instantaneously on a whim, occasionally I have things I actually have to DO.

8:25 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Pauline -- You approach life so rationally. You are the exception to the rest of society that says "Bring it on all at once" to digital technology.

Ulysses -- The point of the NY Times article is that practice doesn't necessarily make perfect for people who are trying to multi-task -- that our brains were not really wired to think this way and may only be able to be trained to a degree. The advice was to accept that limitation and try to maximize productivity knowing it exists.

10:12 AM  
Blogger Old Lady said...

My multi-tasking abilities are degenerating, but what the hey! Oh scroll down to your May Party Blog, I left a commet, and on some others too!

I have been cyber-stalking trolls lately.

12:32 PM  

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