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           Volume 11 |Issue 09| March 02, 2012 |


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Multi-tasking is Taxing on the Brain

Aasha Mehreen Amin

Image Credit: www.technobuffalo.com

'Multi-tasking’ is the buzzword in today's frenetic world, where you are required to be on the cell-phone getting the latest killer assignment from the boss while frying eggs for breakfast and trying to read the headlines in the paper. Thankfully, the boss cannot see you in your tattered nightwear and dreadlocks as you curse silently when the egg falls off the plate and onto the kitchen floor. “Arekta dim lagbe” (I need another egg), you say viciously, gesticulating to the household staff to get rid of the egg on the floor before any casualty can occur by slipping on the greasy thing. Meanwhile, your boss, if he is the gentle kind, is trying to figure out whether this is a figure of speech meaning 'I need another strategy for this' or whether it is time to send you on a leave. Preferably a long one.

Of course there are many people especially teenagers and young adults who glibly say they have no problem at all at multi-tasking, which is just part and parcel of daily life. This is why you will find many a teenager sprawled on the bed, nodding away to hip hop with their earphones constantly plugged in, the TV blaring some nonsensical series, while writing a paper, say, on noise pollution! Grownups too are seen working on a project on the computer while chatting on facebook, searching for words like 'brouhaha' on Google and sneaking in a round or two on some video game that take them to some intergalactic battlefield. Oh and they too have their headsets on.

All this is fine and dandy for those who can handle the strange phenomenon of tearing the brain into many parts and getting them to work on several different things with equal efficiency. But is this really possible, says the harried soul who is overwhelmed by this multi-bombardment of stimuli?

The fact is that the brain doesn't really divide into multiple parts and get about doing different tasks. What it does do, according to scientists, is switch back and forth from one thing to the other like a manic ping pong ball, thus overburdening itself. Research has in fact found that this kind of overdose of multiple tasks can actually slow you down in terms of efficiency, productivity and creativity. It leads to forgetfulness, increases stress levels hence the frequent short fuses at work or at home and also leaves one exhausted and frustrated. Children are the worst affected as they tend to multi-task more and even consider it as being somewhat 'cool'. In reality, their ability to learn and concentrate is severely affected resulting in short attention spans, inability to study for long hours and consequently, regular spats with parents.

The mobile phone with all its multiple functions is actually the ultimate tempter to multi-task. You are compelled to answer the cell phone when it keeps ringing while you are in the shower, so much so that you may actually interrupt that much needed activity, just to answer the call. It may be from the bank offering you an amazing loan package; and being the polite person that you are, you just can't tell them you need to go back to your bath before the water runs out. So you listen in exasperation and finally hang up but as you step back into that heavenly escape of water and soap, there it is again – a text message that just may contain a life-changing announcement. But it's just a silly joke that really does not merit an answer but you feel obliged to send an 'lol, you are a riot' anyway, in case the 'texter' is offended. The only catch is that sometimes and especially if you have soap in your eyes, you may mess up a little and end up sending the text to, yes, your boss.

All this points to the notion of doing things one at a time.

For one thing, we have to acknowledge that we are not from other galaxies and have only one head, thus one brain. If we do one thing at a time, it may seem that things are piling up but actually we are doing each one with full concentration and efficiency. So when you get a text, call, facebook chat pop –up or unscheduled visit in the busiest day of the week and when in the middle of writing a column intended to validate your existence, just ignore it until you have finished the task at hand.

It may all sound a little old fashioned but sometimes it is the wisdom of the past that can save you in the present.

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