Soundview Executive Book Summaries

Multitasking and the Overflowing Brain
January 8, 2009, 2:08 PM
Filed under: Success

It’s an interesting phenomenon when two divergent books meet. Such is the case with the new release The Overflowing Brain by Torkel Klingberg, and the August title The Myth of Multitasking by Dave Crenshaw.


Crenshaw’s book makes the case that multitasking is not possible. We cannot simultaneously perform two or more things that require mental effort and attention. Instead, we “switchtask,” switching rapidly between one task and another to give the appearance of multitasking. And Crenshaw contends that there is a cost to switchtasking which he calls “switching cost.” Since we can’t pay equal attention to more than one thing at a time, there is a cost to the other tasks we’re trying to do simultaneously (i.e. driving while text-messaging).


As a scientist, Klingberg takes a different approach as he describes how the brain handles the immediate tasks at hand with what he calls “working memory.” There is a limited capacity to our working memory, and as we try to focus on too many things at once, we lose information because of these limitations. Klingberg describes what he calls controlled attention: the directed effort to apply one’s concentration to a particular task, and stimulus-driven attention; the involuntary response to something happening in the environment.


Where is the meeting of these two books? It’s in how we handle information overload. Klingberg’s research shows that while we can expand our working memory some, if we don’t focus our attention on something, we will not remember it. Crenshaw agrees with this conclusion, and stresses that business people must take control of their environment in order to not incur a switching cost. Among his recommendations: Take control of technology – become master over the nagging beeps and buzzes of your gadgets, schedule what you can schedule – set regular times for voicemail, email and other tasks, and focus on the person because if you switchtask on a human being, you risk damage to a relationship.


Great advice for all of us who hold onto the mistaken belief that we can successfully multitask! And if you’re looking for other ways to deal with information overload, you might want to check out Soundview Executive Book Summaries.


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