Saturday, March 31, 2007

Multitasking slows you down

An October 2001 study reported in the "Journal of Experimental Psychology" informs us that the brain takes extra time "switching gears" when we switch tasks.
"The shortest way to do many things is to do only one thing at once."
Samuel Smiles
A recent broadcast on National Public Radio discussed University of Michigan research that found it takes people longer to accomplish a series of tasks if they multitask than if they do them one at a time. Multitasking slows you down. Many (most?) people believe that multitasking is faster, but in reality it is not.

In addition, humans we remember and learn differently when we multitask.
"To do two things at once is to do neither."
– Roman sage Publilius Syrus
Microsoft suggests several problems with multitasking. Among them:
  • Interruptions break user concentration and thus hurt longer-term tasks. Why? Users often can't tell which interruptions need to be handled right away, making it hard to maintain current task flow.
  • To successfully complete tasks, you need to know when to stop a current task and return to one you have on hold. Researchers have found that people often pause tasks while waiting for some outside event, for example an expected email or phone call. They then wanted to resume the original task as immediately after the interrupting event. But ...
  • People have trouble getting back on task after shifting their attention away."

Multitasking problems have even crept into churches. For example, one pastor had a habit of shouting over the last hymn as we closed the worship service. But paying attention to his words meant paying less attention to (or stumbling over) the words of the hymn. If a hymn is important enough to sing, it is important enough to concentrate on. We should pay more attention to the words (text message) of hymns, not less (but that's another topic).

Even church staff members need to focus on one task at a time as much as possible. Acting against that goal are an always-open email program or email notifier, an open instant messenger (IM), constant visitors, phone calls, etc. So Pastors and church managers, help your church staff focus. Seek to lessen interruptions to their tasks and they'll get more done in the same amount of time. They'll also appreciate the reduced stress.

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