The Myth of Multitasking and Chronic Distraction - Part 2

Updated: Feb 27

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If you missed Part 1 of this post, you can find it here.


At the end of last week, I encouraged you to take note of your level of constant distraction, and how sometimes you might even unknowingly encourage distraction in your life. What did you discover? How difficult was it to actually focus on one key task at hand?


"People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted.”"

Unfortunately, belief infusing trends are not necessarily anchored in science. And what we once believed to be true and full of wisdom, we may soon find is actually full of folly and frustration… and in this case, also exhaustion. It seems that (in part) because of the strong cultural emphasis on multitasking, we are now discovering that we are chronically distracted and unable to concentrate on a single focused task to completion. {There is other research that indicates our combined screen time – TV, smart phones, computers, tablets, etc. – also plays a role in reducing concentration.} Furthermore, multitasking and distraction can covertly masquerade as procrastination.


In the book, Defending Your Marriage: The Reality of Spiritual Battle, Tim Muehlhoff brings this topic to bear in a section titled Multitasking Marriages (p. 30-31):


I sit in front of our television with my laptop open. As I occasionally glance at the TV, I switch from responding to emails to checking out the latest sports scores to breaking news updates. In today’s multitasking world, I’ve grown comfortable working on many projects simultaneously. My wife walks into the room and asks if she can get my input. I close my laptop and mute the TV. “Sure,” I respond. As she speaks, I quickly find my attention wandering toward half-written emails or the buzzing of my cell phone in my pocket. I offer a quick response and suggest we talk later. I eagerly return to unfinished tasks. I justify my distraction by promising to myself that when we further discuss her concern, she’ll have my full attention. Not so fast, suggests researchers.


“Clifford Nass, a professor of communication at Stanford who studies human attentiveness, asserts that continually switching between multiple tasks can hinder your ability to monotask (focus on one thing). He explains, “We have scales that allow us to divide up people into people who multitask all the time and people who rarely do, and the differences are remarkable. People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted.”


In other words, my assumption that when my wife and I do resume our conversation I’ll be able to give her my full attention may be a promise I can’t easily fulfill. Through regular multitasking am I losing the ability to focus on one thing or person? Nass concludes that through multitasking we “train our brains to a new way of thinking. And when we try to revert our brains back, our brains are plastic but they’re not elastic. They don’t just snap back into shape.”


A disturbing result surfaces from our proclivity toward multitasking. People who regularly multitask begin to see all distractions as carrying the same weight or significance. In other words, the distraction of a spouse is on equal footing as the distraction of responding to unread emails. Our ability to recognize or give preference to important issues is slowly compromised.


I find this excerpt so relatable! At times, I have been the distracted party, unaware that I was not giving the proper weight to the one right thing (or person), while many other things competed for my attention. And then at other times, I have been the one sidelined by the distraction someone else was experiencing. Although, the awareness of my own distraction reminds me of my “less than” moments, it also opens a great expanse of opportunity and refreshes my appreciation for the gifts of choice and will.


As evening falls, when you look back at your day, do you discover that you may have a compromised ability to sort out the relevant from the irrelevant? Did you get the things done that were truly most important to you… that carried the most weight? Were you actually able to tackle with excellence your top to-dos and priorities? Or were you easily distracted… by your phone… by your own procrastination… by lack of focused concentration? The problem is that we become unable to sort out the irrelevant from the relevant.


I encourage you to begin to think about the weight of relevance, priorities, and monotasking… and then order your life and tasks accordingly. When you find yourself already pulled half-way downstream, by distraction or even procrastination… don’t think twice, don’t shame yourself… when you recognize it, just immediately and feverishly swim back to shore and re-double your efforts to tackle what you truly know is your calling and priority for this moment, this hour, this day.


How do you figure out what is most important? Talk to God. If you are intentional about being in relationship with God, He promises to direct your steps (Prov 3:5-6). An additional thought, is “play the movie” (Cloud, 2007), when your head hits the pillow tonight and you reflect on what you accomplished or completed, what will feel the most fulfilling and peace-generating? What tasks and accomplishments will move you toward any stated deadlines and reduce the stress and pressure in your life?


Today will most likely be full of potential distraction and too many tasks at hand. But it is also a full 24-hours of lots of choices and opportunities… what will you do with your precious day? How will you spend your moments and your hours? How will you feel when your head hits the pillow tonight? Are you about the business of the Unique Path that God has gifted you with in this life? Intentionality is a big buzz word now days, but for it to be true about us and our lives, it requires focus and monotasking. What giant will you conquer today?


Wishing you a monotasking day, followed by your best night’s sleep in decades!


Patti


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Reference(s):


Muehlhoff, T. (2018). Defending Your Marriage: The Reality of Spiritual Battle. IVP Books, InterVarsity Press.


https://www.inc.com/scott-mautz/psychology-and-neuroscience-blow-up-the-myth-of-effective-multitasking.html


https://www.verywellmind.com/multitasking-2795003


https://coschedule.com/blog/multitasking-and-productivity/


https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/the_myth_of_multitasking_research_says_it_makes_us_less_productive_and_incr


Cloud H. (2007), 9 Things You Simply Must Do to Succeed in Love and Life: A Psychologist Probes the Mystery of Why Some Lives Really Work and Others Don't. Thomas Nelson

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