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Archive for the “Cocktail Parties” Category

Let us consider that loathsome bete noir of our wired age:  multi-tasking.

We’re in a recession/stagnation economy.  Well, duh.  No huge insight there.  However, one near universal result of this economic state is the pressure to increase worker efficiency–for the owner for the manager, for the secretary, for the janitor.  Everyone feels pressure to do more in less time.

Americans are mostly paid a lot more for their time than laborers elsewhere.  In an increasingly “flat earth” world economy, with investment flowing to the least expensive, most efficacious sources of producing goods and services, it is tempting to resort to magicalism for producing silver bullet solutions to the greater efficiency conundrum.

For many that silver bullet is multi-tasking.

Well, it turns out that multi-tasking is a chimera.  It is ca ca.  It is hooey.  It is self-delusion.  In an article in the WSJ (Melinda Beck, D-1, 4/24/12) titled “What Cocktail Parties Teach Us,” it is made abundantly clear that our brains are wired to focus on only one thing at a time.  Using the cocktail party as a metaphor, Ms. Beck states,

“You’re at a party.  Music is playing.  Glasses are clinking.  Dozens of conversations are driving up the decibel level.  Yet amid all those distractions, you can zero in on the one conversation you want to hear.  This ability to hyper-focus on one stream of sound amid a cacophony of others is what researchers call the ‘cocktail-party effect.'”

Ms. Beck goes on to note that our brains are wired for selective attention and can only focus on one thing at a time.  She cites a University of Utah study which found that only a rare group of “super taskers,” estimated at 2.5% of the population, were able to attend to more than one thing effectively.  Dr. Rene Marois of Vanderbilt University says, “Our research offers neurological evidence that the brain cannot effectively do two things at once.”

As I understand it, what most people consider multitasking is really just shifting their attention quickly between two subjects, and not properly servicing either.

So, what’s a girl (or a busy entrepreneur) to do?

I certainly don’t have that proverbial silver bullet, but here’s what I try to do:

  1. Prioritize and organize.
  2. Do one task at a time.  Do it fully.
  3. Turn off the computer for periods of time.
  4. Turn off the blackberry for periods of time.
  5. Forward your phone for periods of time.
  6. Stop looking for phony, false hope magical solutions like the myth of  multitasking and just buckle down.

Not very helpful, huh?  Afraid that’s all I’ve got today.

But I agree with what British actress Helena Bonham Carter who says:  “Multitasking?  I can’t do two things at once.  I can’t even do one thing at once.”

Thank you Helena Bonham Carter.

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