Are You a Sucker for Irrelevency?

Clifford Nass died last week.  His legacy is his multitasking research. A professor at Stanford, his studies found that the heaviest multitaskers — who often said they could focus like laser beams — were terrible at various cognitive chores like organizing information, switching between tasks, and discerning significance.

“They’re suckers for irrelevancy,” he said. “Everything distracts them.”

And the effects are long-lasting; people who regularly use four or more information streams at a time (listening to music, checking email, talking on the phone, and typing a document, for example), had a tougher time focusing on just one thing even when they weren’t multitasking. [source: Los Angeles Times]

Here’s a video of a TED talk he gave a few years ago, where he describes more of the results from his multitasking research. The most important points are in the five minutes from 6:26 to 11:32, so if you want to save a bit of time, move the slide on the video to start about 6 minutes 30 seconds into his talk.

Think you are the exception? Try these two interactive tests to Test Your Focus and How Fast You Juggle Tasks. And get ready to weep.

What does this multitasking research mean to you?  Be honest, you recognized yourself in the example I gave before the video; someone listening to music, checking email, talking on the phone, and typing a document at the same time. For most of us, myself included, it should be a wake-up call to resist doing two (or more) things at once. It may take some re-training, but it is worth it; the studies show that you will actually be more productive when you focus on one task at a time.



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