From the outside, a circus could seem like the most unfocused arena that ever existed. Picture a melting pot of mismatched oddities all performing at the same time. The dream of distraction… in living color.
But, P.T. Barnum, the father of the modern-day circus, actually had a singular focus when he founded this multitasker’s fantasy: To create The Greatest Show On Earth. Fortunately for him, bringing the most outrageous acts from around the world to one place was cause enough for people to come and business to flourish. By allowing his acts to showcase their ONE Thing, Barnum stayed focused and his vision came to life.
In today’s world, many entrepreneurs feel the pain of taking it all on themselves, and multitasking becomes a habit – one that actually roadblocks business. Studies are now showing that the idea of improving production by multitasking may be as mythological as Barnum’s Fiji Mermaid.
Why the Multitasking Show Must NOT Go On
At the circus, one might compare a juggler to a multitasker. But, have you ever seen a juggler checking email, talking on a cell phone, drinking coffee and keeping three balls in the air? Didn’t think so.
So why are we still multitasking? Zheng Wang, the lead author of an Ohio State research study says it’s because of habitual needs. As people multitask more and more they get used to doing it. Stanford Researcher Clifford Nass agrees and adds that the more we multitask the harder it is to turn off. We start to lose our ability to focus on ONE Thing. An ability that experts say is critical for maximizing our efficiency.
Sure, in P.T. Barnum’s day the world was a much simpler place. While that may be true, it doesn’t mean that people were any less productive than they are now. In fact it’s just the opposite. In recent decades we seem to have lost ourselves in our multiple screens, round-the-clock media and ever advancing technology. Attempting to multitask has become a way of modern-day life. But here’s why we’re closing the curtains on the multitasking myth.
1. It takes the brain four times longer to process and recognize new things. Switching focus back and forth costs you valuable time.
2. A recent Harvard Business Review study found that workers who finish tasks one at a time accomplish 52% more than workers that multitask in the same period of time.
3. Multitasking makes the bigger picture harder to see. Researchers have discovered that multitasking causes a back up in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the part that controls task management. As a result drained brains have a hard time grasping the big picture.
4. Recent research at Ohio State found that multitasking doesn’t satisfy cognitive needs.
5. Neuroscientist Russ Poldrack discovered in a 2006 study that what we learn during multitasking isn’t as beneficial as things learned while focusing on a singular task. The knowledge gained wasn’t as flexible, and multitaskers weren’t able to generalize what they had learned.
6. Clifford Nass, a researcher and professor at Stanford University, found that chronic multitaskers use their brains less effectively. They can’t filter out irrelevant stuff, get distracted and can’t manage their working memory.
Want to see if you have the ability to focus better than a chronic multitasker? Take Standford’s Distraction Filtering Focus test to find out.