This is the second time I write this blog – the third time if you count the one I deleted – but I find the irony too sweet to ignore. The theme of this entry is how we run our lives like a computer with too many tabs open and the next moment my computer’s hard drive crashes – talk about the Universe trying to drive a lesson home!
So let me start with a confession. I suck at taking care of my laptop. In fact, I would go as far as to say that my treatment of it borders on the criminal. Make no mistake, I love the thing – all shiny and beautiful – as it was a present from my husband after I wrote my first (and so far only) book, but I hardly ever switch it off, let alone do all the other things one is supposed to do to take care of one’s most important work tool. If it sounds like I have no clue what those things are, it’s because I don’t. Perhaps it is willful ignorance or perhaps because I’m just too impatient to wait every morning for it to start up – the point is, I think I might have killed my computer through sheer neglect (and perhaps an unhealthy dose of laziness).
You might have gathered that I’m most definitely not an expert on computer preservation and management. What I do know, however, is that running too many programs at the same time – or having too many tabs open – severely slows down its performance. If you’re anything like me, you toggle between programs as you research something on the net, write an article, think of something to add to your to-do list, then switch over to a numerical program to send out an invoice etc. etc. etc. And that’s not even mentioning all the program that run quietly, unseen in the background.
All these functions take its toll on your computer’s hard drive and slows it down, in much the same way our Western habit of multitasking is slowing down our brains. Researchers at Stanford University have found that multitasking is less productive than doing a single thing at a time. The research also found that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information cannot pay attention, recall information, or switch from one job to another as well as those who complete one task at a time. Even more scary is a finding by a study at the University of London, which shows that, in addition to slowing you down, multitasking lowers your IQ.
Researcher Zhen Wang mentions in a recent study on multitasking that: “[People who multitask] are not being more productive — they just feel more emotionally satisfied from their work.”
She says that if we study with our books open, watch TV at the same time and text friends every so often, we get a great feeling of fulfillment. We are getting all these things done at once, and we feel incredibly efficient. Unfortunately, exactly the opposite is the case. Students who engaged heavily in multitasking activities felt great, but their results were much worse than that of people who didn’t multitask.
Another problem is that multitaskers seem very efficient from the outside, so we want to be like them. We see someone who can juggle emailing, doing phone calls and writing a blogpost on the side and think, “That is incredible! I want to be able to do that too!”
So very unknowingly, we put a lot of pressure onto ourselves to juggle more and more tasks. When really, it only seemingly makes us more productive. The daily output, as Wang and other researchers found, only decreases.