Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Myth of Multi-tasking

I just finished a great book called, "Pragmatic Thinking and Learning". It's written mainly for programmers but for most part it, anyone can read it and get a lot out of it. It's loaded with insightful observations about how the human brain works and so forth.

One of the things that the book encourages is note taking and writing down thoughts. So, you may see more of my random thoughts on this here blog.
One of the most impacting things I learned from this book was on the topic of 'Multi-tasking'.

The author points out that multi-tasking is a myth. Our brains are simply not capable of multi-tasking (more specifically, multi-thinking). Yes, we can walk and talk at the same time, or listen to music while doing math, but when it comes to focusing on multiple things at once, our brains simply can't do it. I can't listen to the lyrics of a great song and simultaneously solve a math problem. The best I can do is switch back and forth from each task at a fast rate.

And that's essentially what multi-tasking is; switching focus from task to task at a quick rate. So, is multi-tasking good? Well, if we could switch from task to task seamlessly without losing memory, then multi-tasking might be productive and good. But unfortunately our brains don't work that way.

Imagine you're working at a desk and you're recording all your financial records for the past month. So, you've got all your receipts out, a calculator, a pencil and paper for notes, your check book is out along with your credit card bills etc, and you're recording it all on your computer. And then, you decide to take a 'quick' break to play solitaire(with real cards). Your desk is small so you have to put away most of your financial stuff to make room for the cards. But then after a few minutes you decide to go back to doing finances.... so you put the cards away and get your financial stuff back out. And then you do a little of the finances and decide you want to play solitaire again. You put away the finances and start another game. And so on.... you get the idea.

Well, that's what multi-tasking is like for our brains.

Yes, the analogy breaks down. You ask, 'Why don't I just use another desk to play solitaire?' or 'Why can't I just move some things aside to play solitaire?' In reality you could. But our brains do not have multiple 'desks' or endless amounts of desktop space.

The point is that it takes extra time (and mental energy) to switch between tasks. That explains why, if I'm trying to read a book and check my email and listen to music and watch a YouTube video at the same time, after several hours of doing so, my brain feels fried.

Our brains are limited and we can't be doing everything at once. The reason why teens are good at multi-tasking is because they generally have really sharp short-term memory, so switching tasks doesn't take as much mental energy. Nevertheless, studies have proven that multi-tasking actually decreases your mental productivity by 20%-40% and even increases your chances for error by 50%.


So, if multi-tasking is so horrible, why do we do it? Well, sometimes we have to. A dad has to stop studying or reading to hold his crying baby. Some interruptions simply can't be ignored. But how 'bout when it isn't necessary?

I'll bet that 90% of our multi-tasking is unnecessary. Is that email really that important to respond to? Is that movie trailer really worth watching right now? Do I really need to be listening to music?

Usually, when I'm 'multi-tasking', it's because I'd like to do something fun or urgent when I'm supposed to be focusing on something more important. So I pretend like I can do both at the same time.

So, what's the antidote to unhealthy multi-tasking? Well, first, you gotta set your priorities straight. "Hmm... perhaps, doing my homework is more important than watching 'Chainsaw Massacre.'" :P

And secondly, as Dad says (almost every morning. :) ), "Make the plan, work the plan." Decide to finish that homework and stick to it till it's done. Plan on finishing your chores before checking Facebook. Schedule out your day and even make time for those fun things. There's nothing wrong with music, email, movies, Facebook, etc. as long as they're not interrupting us from the more important things. See if you can schedule just one - two hours in a day for 'entertainment'. Then leave it alone for the rest of the day.

If we have no plan to begin with then a whole day can go by filled with 'multi-tasking' because every distraction was embraced. Our brains try to keep up with our crazy lives, flitting from task to task, yet they can't. Which is why we fall into bed mentally exhausted, having been so 'busy', yet, in reality, having accomplished so little.

Perhaps the increased trends of 'multi-tasking' haven't been caused by an increase in electronic distractions like Facebook, Youtube, email, name it. Perhaps, the issue really lies in a culture that has lost any purpose and self-control.

Ephesians 5:15-17 says- "Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is."

We are called to be good stewards of the time that God has gifted us with. May we not be foolish and squander our time and our mental energy on frivolous things that do not build the Kingdom of God.

Thanks for reading! :)


Saturday, May 22, 2010

An amazing drawing... worth a thousand words.

Study this drawing for a couple of minutes-

What is so captivating about this drawing?

I found this photo online a few weeks ago and decided to save it. I spent at least 10 minutes just looking at it... captivated by the drawing and trying to figure out why it was so captivating.

These are some of the thoughts I had while studying it.

Again, why is this drawing so captivating?

Perhaps it’s the ferocity of this mythical creature. It’s built like a powerful man, yet with the features of a lizard or dragon and with a mouth like one of those deep underwater fish creatures. The paws of this creature look powerful enough to kill a bull with one swing. How much more a man? Can you imagine this creature’s movements as it stalks and captures its prey? If the lion is the King of the Jungle, then this creature would certainly be King of the Forest. Nothing about it is weak or pathetic. Every feature declares its awesome power and might. Covered in scales so thick hardly a weapon can pierce it. Yet somehow, its right leg has been severed. (It’s difficult to see but its right foot is missing leaving a bloody stub) Here it is standing victorious over its first opponent, yet wounded terribly from the battle. What does this creature have to lose? It is visibly enraged by the loss of its foot and has turned its attention (or its wrath) to the other soldier. Though captivating, the creature doesn’t seem to be the focal point that held my attention in this drawing.

Perhaps it’s the fallen soldier on the ground. We’re left wondering if he is dead or just wounded. Was it he who cut off the creature’s foot? How did he manage to do that? How old is this man? From what you can see of his face he looks middle-aged, perhaps a bit younger. Does he have a family that depends on him? Is his wife waiting for him to come home? Many of these questions don’t have answers. And though the story behind this main was thought-provoking, this man isn’t the main focal point that held my attention.

Perhaps it’s the surroundings of this scene. It looks like it is mid-morning with the fog still waiting for the afternoon sun to drive it away. The characters are in a mountainess forest with evergreens shooting up around them; Out in the middle of the wilderness. Why are these soldiers out here? Were they searching for this creature to destroy it? If so, what has he done? Has he been killing off cattle, livestock, or been a menace to nearby villagers and travelers? Has he captured the princess of the kingdom and held her ransom? If these soldiers weren’t out to get him, were they attacked unaware of his presence? Does he rule this forest? Again, we don’t know; and again, there is something more to this drawing that captures my attention.

I thought about it longer and longer, and I came to this conclusion. What was so captivating about this drawing was the remaining soldier. Particularly his face. Yes, his uniform is exquisite. Yes, his weapons make him look well-prepared for battle. But, what caught and kept my attention about this soldier was his face.

Here he is, looking into the eyes of this ferocious creature which has just killed or wounded his comrade and has now turned all of its evil passion and rage towards him. This man’s strength pales in comparison to this creature’s might. How on earth is he going to survive an attack from such a creature? Suppose he was able to kill it; if he was wounded he would likely die from loss of blood on the trek back home. All these things are probably going through his mind.

He might return home as a hero but the odds are against him. He’ll be lucky to return home at all. Will his parents and siblings miss him? Perhaps he has sweetheart at home waiting for his return. How will she deal with his death?

Again, his face. There’s hardly a trace of fear yet you know that it is coursing through his veins. He stands ready, looking apprehensively yet unblinkingly in the face of death. Is he ready to die?

All I’ve got is this spear and my sword. Will either one even cut through his skin? Watch out for those claws and go for his neck.

He looks younger than the other man. Was that his mentor, an older brother, best friend?

O God, is Frederick dead? Or wounded? It doesn’t matter now. This battle is for him and if I live I promise to carry him home, dead or alive.

He does look young. Probably late teens or early twenties.

I’ve never killed even a bear before. Much less a creature like this. O God, please help me. Give me the courage to fight. Guide my spear and be my shield.

Something about his face draws you to him. You want to encourage him. You want him to win. You want him to survive. But you can only look and hope. What will happen next? You can only speculate.

You also long for the courage this young man has. Would I really stand there and face such an evil foe? Or would I buckle and run? I trust that God will give me the courage to stay steadfast when I am faced with so much fear and evil.

That's all for now! Leave a comment if you have any further thoughts on the drawing.

God bless!


P.S. Thanks to Dillon for telling me to post this. I tried describing the picture to him and he said I should post it. :) Thanks Dillon. :D