Sunday, April 12, 2009

Multitasking may be a myth

I talk on the phone when I drive because it's the only time I have to chat without a child in the background. I've hemmed my pants while editing an article. I've handed my toddler a juice box while driving, cooked a multi-part dinner all at the same time, and juggled more than one project for work on the same deadline. Who hasn't?

Like most working moms, I often credit what’s left of my sanity to my ability to multitask. Whether it’s folding a mountain of laundry while watching TV or typing emails while trying to keep your toddler from pecking at the keyboard, multitasking is how busy moms manage, right?

According to neuroscientists at MIT: Maybe not.

Apparently, we’re not doing several things at once as much as we’re doing several things one at a time, very quickly — and not necessarily very well. So multitasking? It may be just a myth.

Earl Miller, a Picower professor of neuroscience at MIT, says that for the most part, our brains simply can’t focus on more than one thing at a time — no one’s can. “Switching from task to task, you think you’re actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you’re actually not,” Miller said in on NPR’s Morning Edition recently. “You’re not paying attention to one or two things simultaneously, but switching between them very rapidly.”

Over at The 36-Hour Day, we're wondering whether we really do multitask. Do you think we do? Or are we deluding ourselves?

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