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Cannabis Is Better For You Than Multi-Tasking

Did you know it’s generally accepted that the human mind can only consciously deal with between 5 and 9 pieces of information at any one time?

That even though there are currently millions of bits of data streaming at you, you are only aware of about 7 different things at any one time.

It’s not very impressive is it?

Especially when you consider your unconscious mind is dealing with the rest of the information in its stride.

Only it gets worse than that, because the latest brain research has shown that the 7 things we previously thought we could hold in conscious awareness, is in reality, more like 4.

Even so, you maybe thinking, 4 things is adequate because that means you can be reading e-mails whilst on a conference call and still have plenty of spare capacity should you need it to paint your toe nails.

Sadly though, that’s not the case, even though Blackberry, Apple, and all  the other purveyors of multi-tasking devices meant to make your life easier and their wallets fatter, would have you believe otherwise.

The Lie Of Multi-Tasking

Multi-tasking is right up there with the check’s in the mail as one of the biggest lies of our time.

To all intents and purposes it doesn’t exist – it’s an illusion*

When the human mind tries to undertake two tasks at once (presuming they require full conscious awareness), performance falls of a cliff and you’re probably no exception to that.

According to psychology professor, Harold Pashler, something called dual-task interference kicks in when a second task is added and a Harvard MBA scholar equivalent will see their performance deteriorate to that of an 8 year old child.

Research undertaken at the University of London has shown that constantly e-mailing and texting whilst on the go can reduce IQ levels by almost 15 points in men and 5 points for women.

In other words, multi-tasking is 3 x worse for men than smoking cannabis when it comes to it’s effect on cognitive function.

Although to be fair, you probably wont get the munchies when e-mailing.

I know for some people this information is hard to digest, because when they are on that conference call it really seems so easy to save some time by answering a few quick e-mails. And in some ways it is.

Replying to the e-mail is not the problem because a lot of the process is done at an unconscious level.

However, with any reply much more complicated than, “Thanks for the e-mail” the chance of you making an error is exponentially increased to the point where it’s almost inevitable.

A bit like the time I replied to a male client whilst talking to my wife on the phone and put kisses on the bottom of the e-mail!

Unless that is, for that moment you shift your awareness away from the call and thus risk missing something pertinent there. And the argument that nothing important ever happens on a conference call is not a valid excuse.

You may want to bear that in mind next time you are on phone call and you can hear the other person typing away and claiming to still be listening. They’re not, not truly anyway.

Focus Grasshopper

And it may also explain why you are 23 x more likely to have a car accident if you texting whilst driving.

There have been hundreds of books written on productivity as people strive to make the most of every last second of every last day.

However, the single biggest thing you can do by some margin to improve your effectiveness, is not to buy another book, it’s simply to concentrate on one thing at once to the exclusion of everything else.

It sounds easy doesn’t it, but I bet unless you already operate like that, you’ll find it incredibly difficult.

* According to a study done at the University of Utah, there are a very small group of people in the 2% range termed as super-taskers who can multi-task to a certain extent

34 comments to Cannabis Is Better For You Than Multi-Tasking

  • I kind of hate multi tasking. Just just on a short point of time, but also in my long term goals. Multi tasking takes away your concentrated efforts and our consciousness can’t relate to what we actually want from life. So, it’s just about taking tasks one after another :)

  • Sweet.

    I’m turning my phone off, shutting my computer down, and going to source some weed.

    Cheers Coach :)

  • Hilarious and useful as always Tim,

    I one thought I was missing an important skill because I was bad at multitasking. Turns out everybody is missing that skill.

    I believe in having flow when you do something, including work. And flow means focus, which is the opposite of multitasking.

  • Ben

    Erm….but I always get the kingbird while emailing (or commenting on articles like this).

    Great sources here Tim, I’ve tried argue against multitasking for the last few years. Now whenever some multitasking god tries get on their soap box I’ll just send them here.

    Looking forward to Wednesday!

  • I alwys thought I was pretty useless at mutlitasking, but that my ability to do so was even less after smoking… good to know my brain is mostly safe.

  • I’m so glad this multi-tasking myth is now being debunked. I have never been able to do it and always felt like I ‘should.’ When I tried it, I got stressed out and did a few things rather badly. And don’t even get me started on the women who talk about their fantastic ability to multi-task while pointing at their husbands then rolling their eyes and shaking their heads…

  • I always thought multi-tasking was stupid. Now I can tell everyone, “Look, Tim says so too. Neener neener!!”.

    Can’t believe you signed your email to the client with kisses. That made me laugh so hard and I really needed that today. Thanks for sharing.

    • Actually I’ve done it twice.

      The first time the guy in involved who happens to be named Guy and comments round here occasionally, never batted an eye lid. Secretly I think he was delighted.

  • Well, I WAS gonna leave a comment on this post, but I’m already watching TV, eating dinner, surfing the web, and planning my next big business move, so I can’t.

    Oh, wait, I just did. Never mind!

  • Even before reading this post, I challenged myself today to do just one thing at a time. I did have trouble doing nothing else while eating, but otherwise it was absolutely delightful. It helped that I was alone and could set the agenda.

    Next step is to not multi-task when other people are making demands…will have to remember the cannabis thing. :)

  • Hey Tim,

    You are so right on with this one and it took me soo long to learn. I equate it with “being in the now” and consciously doing something. If you are doing 5 things NOTHING is getting your best effort. Parents should take special note of this – talking with your kids means doing so consciously – not while paying bills, listening to messages and checking email simultsneously…

    Love the title too! Thanks Tim — your new design is awesome. The kids go back to school soon so I’ll be BACK in action.


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  • I just want to state for the record that I get the munchies while emailing.

  • I used to think I was smart with my dual 22″ widescreen monitors…think of all that desk space.

    Now I find unless I’m coding and testing a website (in which case the extra monitor does come in handy) the extra real estate just drives me into a pit of filthy multitasking funk that grabs me for extended periods of time.

    The biggest mistake, I’ve found, is thinking “willpower” ought to take care of it. We should be strong enough to curb our multitasking habits without the need to change our environment. What a load. Lock me in a room with a pen and a pad and I’ll create something. Give me an internet connection and an iPad and I’ll rot my skull out.

  • I too, through reading productivity literature, was also lead to believe the multi-tasking is ‘bad’. But perhaps this isn’t so…

    There’s a case that multi-tasking low level tasks is actually quiet effective in getting things done, and so long as you don’t want to ‘meditate’ over your washing up, that’s fine.

    However, I also read an article in The Times recently that said that the way in which we consume information today (i.e. rapidly in bite-sized chunks) is effectively rewiring our brains and erodes our ability to concentrate on a single thing. Whilst on the surface this is (again) ‘bad’, it goes on to say that the youth of today – who are growing up in this world – are effectively learning to cope (or make it ‘work’ for them). Essentially, the brain – by making these constant rapid connections – is learning to multi-task. Not something we could do well in the past, but maybe something we can do well in future generations?

    My own view is that ‘balance’ is the best way to go – try and be good at both. But what is for sure is that technology isn’t changing. And, to fail to allow our kids to immerse themselves in this new world, would be to handicap them. Likewise, to fail to teach them how to focus and tune-out would also be a failure.

    Here is the article, but I think you have to subscribe

    • I often wonder why people get so upset about kids texting and the changing of language etc. It’s evolution and twas ever thus.

      I do also wonder if ADHD is in some way connected to this. Whether people that suffer form this condition are almost caught between two worlds.

      I may be talking bollocks now of course ;-)

  • Rob

    I’m certain ladies are dual processor.

    My Sandra can hold a ‘phone conversation and edit photos effortlessly and simultaneously whereas I ‘crash’ in similar situations and end up freezing on the phone and looking at the screen blank.

    Anyone heard of ‘switch-tasking’? I’ve been lead to believe that’s closer to what we call multi-tasking…apparently it’s what we do and it’s inefficient due to the nature of having to ‘re-load’ information for each task.

    There’s also task-layering which is the one where we are capable of doing an activity whilst performing another unrelated activity..e.g.

    listening to “Stayin’ Alive” whilst pulling off some class moves at the local roller disco springs to mind…

    that’s multi-tasking.

  • [...] trying to explain to such a client that you really weren’t multi-tasking when they notice a Facebook post or tweet in their timeline slap bang in the middle of your last [...]