In Praise of Unitasking
By Arianna Huffington
Think you're able to competently do two things at once? Like read this article while talking on the phone or IMing a colleague? Well, think again—actually, don’t think again now—that would be multitasking. Wait until you’re done reading and then think again.
Studies have shown we think we’re doing two things at once, when, really, we’re doing only one and just switching back and forth, with a huge efficiency loss in the process.
What does this mean in the workplace? One 2007 study of workers at Microsoft found that it took them an average of 15 minutes to get their focus back after multitasking with a bit of e-mailing or IMing.
Of course, outside the office, the consequences can be much worse than just lost time. A study released in July by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that texting while driving increased the chances of a crash by 23 times.
This isn’t to say the health risk of multitasking is confined to the roads. Gloria Mark, a professor and one of the authors of a UC Irvine study, found that after 20 minutes of interrupted activity, workers reported higher levels of stress and pressure.
This can start a vicious circle that can lead to increased stress hormones and risk of cardiovascular disease. “Why are people in large cities more angry?” Dr. Alan Keen of Australia’s Central Queensland University told the Daily Mail, “If I’m living in a big city with a busy job, and I’m multitasking and I’m a busy parent, all that translates into chemical changes in the brain.”
Worst of all, we’re teaching all the wrong lessons to our children, who are growing up in a world where multitasking is the norm. But what effect will it have on their brains and their ability to learn? And what about the hidden costs? The short-term gain we get—or think we get—by multitasking is obvious: I read three e-mails while handling a call! But what are we missing?
One of my final memories of my mother was, in fact, the last time she was angry with me before she died. She was upset with me when she saw me talking with my children and opening my mail at the same time. She despised multitasking. She believed it was a way to miss life, to miss the gifts that come only when you give 100 percent of yourself to a task, a relationship, a moment.
Part of the essence of creativity is absorption. It can’t be scheduled or checked off as we answer nine e-mails. Whether it’s meditation, prayer or just taking a walk, allowing yourself to recharge and be in the moment is essential to creativity and inspiration.
So next time, think about trying to do some serious unitasking. And remember: Multitasking may seem tempting, but the costs are high. Be a unitasker instead.
ILLUSTRATION BY KALI CIESEMIER