If you’re reading this you have access to technology and that means that you are likely going to engage in media multitasking at some point or another. In a previous post I looked at a study that says that media multitasking leads to poorer cognitive performance. That’s not so shocking since our attentional capacity is limited and when it’s splintered off we’re not going to be as sharp on any one thing. However, the reality is, we’re going to multitask, it’s not only rewarded in work environments, but it’s something that comes natural to our brains. So if we’re going to do it, what’s the best way?
Research suggests you look into mindfulness training.
In 2012, David Levy and Jacob Wobbrock, Information School professors at the University of Washington, conducted a study with Human Resource Managers and asked them to engage multitasking through all the usual methods of calendar, email, instant messaging, word-processing, and others and measured their stress. They split them up into three groups, (1) taking an 8-week mindfulness course, (2) taking an 8-week relaxation course and (3) business as usual.
After the 8-weeks they had them engage in multitasking again and found that not only did the mindfulness group experience less stress while multitasking, but they were able to focus better.
Part of the reason multitasking may lead to poorer cognitive performance is that stress can quickly get to a point where we experience diminishing returns.
In The Now Effect I make the argument that there are two ways we’re going to experience the benefit of mindfulness training. The first is through a singular moment where we experience that space between the stimulus and response and in that space we get in touch with choice and insight into what matters. The second is by influencing the auto-pilot that lives in our brains and makes most of the decisions moment to moment.
When we practice and repeat a procedure it programs the auto-pilot. So if you practice becoming more present, focused, flexible and self-compassionate in face of difficulty, then the auto-pilot is going to make more skillful decisions in the face of stress.
There’s nothing mystical about this, it’s just the way our brain works.
It’s always great to see science backing it up.
Here’s a short practice to get you started or if you have a long time practice, this is a moment of mindful retreat.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
Multitasking girl photo available from Shutterstock
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Last reviewed: 19 Dec 2012