Aug 26, 2010
How often do you listen to the office gossip while filling in forms? Or read a document while talking on the phone with a client? Or think about your problems at work while helping your child with his homework?
We are constantly assaulted by lots of information and often required to perform several tasks at once. It is not easy to stay focused. However being able to stay focused is crucial to achieve success. Indeed, if you are listening to the office gossip while filling in forms, you will probably make mistakes. If you try to read a document while talking on the phone with a client, you will probably sound distant and uninterested to your client and may not get the contract you expected to get. If you think about your problems at work while helping your child with his homework, you will probably miss opportunities to teach her something.
As you may notice all the situations above involve doing more than one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is enemy number one when it comes to accurate and speedy performance.
Human attention is limited. Think about your attentional focus as the beam of a light. If the light is on an object it cannot be on other objects at the same time with the same intensity. Only dim light will be available to light up the objects in the periphery. The same happens in your attentional system. Dividing attention results in less attentional power devoted to all the different tasks that you are trying to do at the same time. The more tasks, the less attention can be devoted to each. The result is more errors and waste of time. Although we all have the feeling that multitasking saves us time, it is often not the case.
Try the exercise below to test your attentional focus. Three words have been combined to make this grid of letters. How many times does each of these words appear…? Can you compare your performance while searching for just one word vs. two of them at the same time?
How many times is the word SUN shown?
How many times is the word BUS shown?
How many times is the word NONE shown?
Sun is shown 12 times
Bus is shown 8 times
None is shown 4 times
— Pascale Michelon, Ph. D., is SharpBrains’ Research Manager for Educational Projects. Dr. Michelon has a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology and has worked as a Research Scientist at Washington University in Saint Louis, in the Psychology Department. She conducted several research projects to understand how the brain makes use of visual information and memorizes facts. She is now an Adjunct Faculty at Washington University.
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