Are you an accomplished multi-tasker? Are you successfully able to accomplish more than one task at a time? Many of the young people I work with truly believe they are effective multi-taskers. Research posits otherwise. The primary part of our brain responsible for focusing, the pre-frontal cortex (PFC) is not able to do two things at the exact same time, it takes time for it to switch from focusing on one thing to the next.
Try this exercise:
1. Begin reciting the ABC’s
2. Now count to 10
3. Now let’s alternate between the two: A 1 B 2 C 3 D 4…continue…
Are you finding yourself slowing down? It takes your brain a brief amount of time to switch.
When I am driving to a place using the map navigation on my phone, and I look at my phone, it will take a moment longer to notice the car in front of me hitting their brakes, more time than if I had not been looking at my map.
Our PFC is not capable of doing two things at the exact same time.
When a high school or college student is faithfully working on writing a paper and they receive a text or message, if they decide to look at their phone and see who it is from, their brain will switch from focusing on one task to a different one. When they choose to come back to working on their paper, for most people it will take them approximately 15-20 minutes to get back in the zone of writing where they were prior to the distraction.
So, one can work on writing a paper and tend to social media…their paper will just take them longer to complete.
If they want to be more effective with their time, encourage students to remove all distractions, focus on their assignment, and then after a set time, say 45 minutes or an hour, then take a break, stand up, move around, check messages, and after a short break, return to focusing on their assignment. They will be able to accomplish both activities but in a shorter amount of time.
We are capable of multi-tasking, but the brain works optimally when it focuses on one task at a time.