Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

The Hired Girl

Laura Amy Schlitz

Multitasking for the Singletasking Mind.

Multitasking for the Singletasking Mind.
Get oriented.
Get organized
Look 'em in the eye
Sleep already
Exercise. Now.
Get blogging
Get coding
Get smart(er)
Get lucky

Background YouTube, foreground Twitter. TV.

And your homework.

Oh, you don’t want to spend all night on homework? A Stanford University study found that when you try to do a bunch of things at the same time, your cognitive performance can plummet. Which means (many) more hours of studying or (much) worse grades.Multitasking fantasy vs. multitasking reality. A satirical graphic depiction of the difference. 60second Recap VLADGRIN?Shutterstock topform/Shutterstock

"The people who multitask the most are the worst at it," says multitasking researcher Clifford Nass, who led the Stanford study. "It doesn’t even save time."

It's a fact: Our brains aren’t built for multitasking. Instead, they just switch between distractions. You might think you’re multitasking. You might feel like a multitasking master of the universe. But what you call multitasking is, in fact, the cognitive equivalent of looking up every five seconds and saying, “Huh? What?

While you may not realize that your mental performance is sagging, it is. Your brain on multitasking is like a tire with a slow leak: You don’t know the air is escaping until the tire’s suddenly flat.

The good news is, there is a strategy that reconciles your brain’s need to focus on one thing at a time, with your need to live in the 21st century. It lets you tell your brain when it’s time to switch its focus, instead of asking your overworked “multitasking” noggin to figure it out for itself.

Or, to put it another way:

Tell your brain what to do

Here’s how it works: You do one thing a time.

That’s it.

If your tasks are on your computer, that means one browser window at a time.

Experiment with a switching pace that works for you. Perhaps it’s 10 minutes of online trigonometry homework, followed by five minutes on YouTube. When you’re done with ten minutes of trig, close the trig window so your brain can relax on YouTube. After you've five minutes spent laughing at stupid cat videos, close the YouTube window so your brain can focus again on your trigonometry homework.

If you’re doing homework out of a book, power down the computer screen. Power it up on the schedule you’ve constructed, based on the How-To-Do plan we described here. Bottom line: Do the switching for your brain. Your brain will thank you—and so will your (greatly-reduced) stress levels.

What's your multitasking vice? Are you an Instagram addict? A Vine voyeur? And with all these distractions, how do you get things done? Let us know!

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