“Multitasking is a myth,” behavioral-science writer Winnifred Gallagher told the New York Times this week. “You cannot do two things at once. The mechanism of attention is selection: it’s either this or it’s that.”
It seems her new book, entitled Rapt, is getting some good press because it’s touched a nerve. In a world where we are bombarded with stimuli and demands from more and more sources, she contends that the quality of our lives depends on what we choose to pay attention to and how we choose those things.
Noting that the typical person’s brain can process 173 billion bits of information over the course of a lifetime, she adds:
“People don’t understand that attention is a finite resource, like money. Do you want to invest your cognitive cash on endless Twittering or Net surfing or couch potatoing? You’re constantly making choices, and your choices determine your experience, just as William James said.”Here’s an interesting tip from the Times article: She recommends starting your work day concentrating on your most important task for 90 minutes. At that point your prefrontal cortex probably needs a rest, and you can answer e-mail, return phone calls and sip caffeine ~ which does help attention ~ before focusing again. But until that first break, don’t get distracted by anything else, because it can take the brain 20 minutes to do the equivalent of rebooting after an interruption.