Overloading Your Brain Could Result in Blowing a Fuse From Task Abuse

Caroline de Braganza

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Why not save energy and switch on one task at a time?

Those neurotransmitters fizzing and popping round your head only create confusion and lack of clarity.

Although we can rewire Brain (one of my best friends) to build new neural networks, we cannot operate at optimum efficiency when multitasking.

And I will explain why.

Sensory Stimulus

Our brains grow 64% in the first 90 days after we are born. We react to external sensory stimuli in our environment such as loud noises. A touch on our cheek triggers the rooting of turning our head for nourishment.

As we grow, our neural pathways map out routes around Brain to enable us to process information being received from our environment—sights, smells, sounds, a passing thought or memory.

  • the sight and sound of flashing red lights and a bell at a railway crossing signals an approaching train
  • the sound of angry voices warns you of danger
  • the smell of smoke alerts you to fire
  • strong winds foretell of a storm coming

But to avoid meltdown, Brain filters out extraneous information so we can pay attention to what is important. Brain is following the script from your experiences. An internal highlighter.

The action is so rapid, we’re not even aware of it.

When is it okay to multitask?

With simple tasks that don’t demand problem-solving or critical thinking.

For example,

  • walking and eating - talking and eating is bad manners!
  • folding laundry while watching TV
  • listening to music or the radio while ironing—don’t watch TV or you must explain that scorch mark!
  • reading while playing music – your eyes are on the book while your ears are listening.

When is multitasking a bummer for Brain?

Individual complex tasks beg our full attention.

You’re kidding yourself if you conclude you’re more productive by doing a load of things at once.

A load of washing is a simple task, but texting while you’re driving puts yourself and others on the road in danger. A split second of distraction has dire consequences.

Complex tasks demand that we focus on each one until complete. This is especially true in the work environment, irrespective of whether you work from home or in an office.

...

My final job before I retired to become a full-time writer, was in Retail as an Art Framing Consultant. It was a multi-tasking nightmare over which I had no control.

Over and above consulting with clients, costing and invoicing, we had to compile the worksheets related to our orders and pass these on to the factory production staff. Based in South Africa, the staff did not have the skill set to measure and calculate frame lengths, glass size, etc. themselves.

The retail environment revolves around the customer. The moment they enter the shop, you drop whatever you’re doing to attend to them, including worksheets. I won’t tell you how many times I made mistakes on those worksheets, to the extent I started saying after hours to complete them without distractions—and no errors!

...

Some pundits say that listening to music while working can impair our productivity but from my personal experience, I disagree. My take is it depends on the music and the person.

For instance, certain writers favour absolute silence when they are working. I prefer smooth relaxing music in the background; but nothing that makes me want to get up and dance. I’ll save that for when the work is complete!

In today’s world of digital distractions, the temptation is to believe multitasking makes us more productive.

“A 2009 Stanford University study from Clifford Nass found that heavy multi-taskers were less mentally organized, struggled at switching from one task to another, and had a hard time differentiating relevant from irrelevant details.”—Business News Daily

Better to complete one task well than five tasks of poor quality and riddled with errors.

Andy Kerns, creative director at Digital Third Coast, says

“We crave constant stimulation and fast rewards and lots of variety, so we bounce around in the modern, digital environment trying to do a bunch of things really fast, all at once. The results are bad on every level—sloppy work, poor decision-making, increased stress, lack of creativity.”

When Brain receives legions of Attention signals switching On and Off along our neural networks, it applies the brakes to impede the speed.

Researchers suggest that multitasking can reduce productivity by as much as 40 percent!

Pay Attention

Do you recognise that phrase from your teachers or parents—even your boss?

You cannot give your best if you are not fully present.

Filter out distractions—turn off your phone, stop checking your text and emails. Block off a chunk of time to give your full attention to the task at hand.

Thank you for reading with your full attention.

I leave you with this song by comedian Katie Goodman:

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Published essayist. Follow me for local news that impacts our lives, plus stories on public and mental health. Through writing, I also share my passion for music, politics, our environment and social justice, and hope you find value in my words.

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