I have this discussion with students periodically. No matter how much you believe you can multi-task, you probably can’t. What actually happens is your brain flips back and forth between tasks so fast that it feels like you’re concentrated on both, but you’re not. This is how multi-tasking often ends…

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Photo Credit: 7-how-7 Flickr via Compfight cc

To further reinforce this point, I have an activity for you.

Count backwards from 10-0 as fast as you can. Ready…GO!

No problem eh?

Alright then smartypants, say all the letters from A-K as fast as you can. Ready…GO!

Oh you’re good! You made it look easy!

It’s amazing how easily we can complete one task at a time and how fast it can go. Let’s see if doing BOTH of those tasks together will take twice as long. If that is the case, then we end up breaking even. Perhaps we will be able to do them together faster than doing each one on there own, or perhaps it will take longer than doing each one on there own. Predictions??

Alright, so time to do our little experiment. Count backwards from 10-0 and alternate with saying the alphabet from A-K. So it’ll go 10, A, 9, B, 8, C…etc.

And….GO!

Done yet??

Still think you can do two tasks more efficiently by doing them together? Now this example might not apply to everything as both are thinking tasks. You can probably ride a stationary bike and watch t.v. at the same time effectively, but a lot of the things we pair together will in fact slow us down, but possibly even more importantly than that, we do each task a little poorer or get a little less enjoyment out of it because we are not fully immersed in the task at hand.

I was a part of the group that gave a presentation in class this week on productivity and presentation tools, and the question we put out to the class was essentially this: is the internet really a productivity tool or does it just offer distractions, thereby making us a bunch of multi-taskers who actually accomplish less?

First of all, I definitely believe that the internet is a productivity tool. First example. I once did a report on Harrison Ford in grade 6 and I remember having to read his entire biography to get the information I needed. Hours required: let’s just say 40. With the internet, hours required: probably 40 minutes. That seems to me to fit the definition of a productivity tool. Are there times when the internet perhaps distracts us from being productive?? Oh heck yes! Nyan cat anyone??

I’ve said this in blog posts previously. The fault lies not with the tool, but with the user. The internet can make you more productive, or less. Cell phones can connect you with friends and family, or reduce your social interactions. Technology can be used for good, or for ill. Let’s not blame the tool because…Oh my gosh!! Check out this cat!!

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Photo Credit: parchedwings Flickr via Compfight cc

Sorry, sorry, got distracted. But in all seriousness, I am actually quite proud of the discipline that I have in not being distracted in most of the things I do. I am a very efficient person, but I see plenty of users of the internet fall prey to the endless series of distractions that are available. I’m not really sure how to train people to fight these distractions, but what has come up in almost everyone’s blogs I’ve read this week is the importance of balance. Heidi’s blog ‘Is my prep over already?’ talks extensively about finding balance and even about needing to escape from technology. A technology ‘escape’ can be effective in helping us slow things down and avoid all of those tempting distractions. I think the ultimate goal should be to train yourself to use technology but use it just for the purpose that you picked it up for. Again, I’m not really sure how you get to that point, but perhaps just firmly understanding in your mind that you will ultimately be more productive, have more time, and get greater enjoyment from doing one task at a time can help people get to this point.

Tyson discusses the role that email plays in distracting us, and email is definitely a prominent feature of the internet. I read The Happiness Equation by Neil Pasricha over the summer and one thing that I read that actually changed my use of email was a story he told about a CEO that he worked for who practically didn’t use email. I can’t get the whole story in here by any means, but one of the key reasons was because the CEO felt that email has made people almost lazy in that we just email people things now instead of thinking for ourselves or just trying to figure it out on our own. This CEO found a lot more time in his day by not spending all his time replying to every email that came his way. Since reading this, I have greatly reduced the time I spend in my inbox, and I have been loving it!

I feel like I can sound like a broken record at times as here is another blog of mine talking about the importance of balance in life, and that the issues lie with the users of technology, not with the technology itself. Not every single time I use the internet is it actually a productivity tool for me, but that was a choice in how I decided to make use of it. When I want the internet for productivity, it never fails me.

Live long and prosper

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