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Each week on Two Guys on Your Head, Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke, explore different aspects of human behavior and the brain.

Why We Can't Multitask (But Think We Can)


Do you take pride in your ability to divide your focus and energy into more than one task at a time? Do you think you’re a good multitasker?

Chances are, you’re probably not.

We sat down with two experts – the Two Guys, Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Robert Duke – to take a closer look at the topic of multitasking. Their take offers a perspective into some of the unique issues associated with multitasking.

Our brains are wired to perform at their best when we focus on one thing at a time. Performance in task completion while multitasking always depends on each unique circumstance.

Evaluating the risk presented by dividing your focus will help determine the probability for successful completion of each task. If there's a risk associated with poor performance in whatever task you're dividing your attention from, it’s probably best not to try. In other words, it’s usually better to focus on one thing at a time.

Why then is it so appealing for us to divide our attention between our families, our phones, our computers, our work, our games, our favorite shows and do 10 things at once?

Nothing about us has changed. We get bored easily, we're often overconfident in our capabilities, and we're usually not the most reliable judges of our own performance. Our environments have changed. Technology has made it easier to divide our attention. The temptation to multitask has increased with technological developments, while our ability to perform at our best while multitasking has remained ineffective.

Experts advise that developing the skills to be present in each moment – for each task at hand independently – is the best strategy. Turn off your phone in your car. Close that email window while you’re trying to work.

Don’t try to divide your attention – just be present in the here and now.

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