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Can You Really Multitask?

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Men and women have an ongoing joke about multitasking, except it really isn’t a joke at all. Because they are mothers, wives, have professions, are employees and are daughters,  they are constantly juggling multiple tasks. To illustrate this, there was a Psychology Today article a few months ago entitled “Why I Need a Wife.” It was written by a woman who, having too many things to do argued that she needed the benefits that husbands enjoy: having a wife to do everything. In actuality, many women state that they are inherently multitaskers in order that they can handle all the tasks that go along with being a mother to their children.

In point of fact, both men and women find themselves multitasking in today’s world. However, in doing this they face many dangers. For instance, people are texting while driving and risking getting into an accident. By answering the cell phone while in the middle of a conversation with a friend you might insult your friend.

In addition to these problems, multitasking may be cause a state of heightened mental stress “because we’re constantly scanning the environment and we know that chronic stress is not good for the brain” according to Dr. Gary Small, Professor of Psychiatry and Aging at the UCLA School of Medicine.

Dr. Small says that a mental process related to multitasking called partial continuous attention (PCA) is difficult to resist because “our dopamine circuits that are involved in reward systems drive it because we want that exciting new bit of information. The problem is that, with PCA, we are never focused on just one activity. Instead, there is a constant sense of being distracted and it can be maddening for those around this type of thing. For example,  my daughter, who is a recruiter for an IT company, is constantly checking her cell phone just in case there might be an important work related phone call or text. This means that, right in the middle of a conversation, she will suddenly put her head down to check her phone. This happens even during the weekends and holidays.

In point of fact, research shows that, multitasking, we are not doing anything as efficiently or as well as if we were doing things one at a time. Attempting to do many things at the same time is distracting at best and interferes with the ability to concentrate on one task that needs attention. The result is that nothing gets done very well. As mentioned above, it’s also stressful with all of the consequences that accompany stress.

It’s best that people focus their attention on one thing at a time, especially when it comes to things like being distracted by cell phones and computers.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD


 

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