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Clifford Nass on how to fix your brain (no more multitasking)

Chris Albrecht's GigaOm article with a video interview with Clifford Nass on the topic: Video: Multi-Tasking is Bad for Your Brain. Here's How to Fix It.  It covers multitasking and a few other topics that he throws in for good effect. 

The video itself is a lot of fun and there are a lot of useful tidbits that come out of it.  So I will offer some quotes and brief thoughts here.

  • [0:00] Anything that makes noise or flashes when something happens is designed to distract you and grab your attention.  It's guaranteed to break your concentration and force you to switch tasks.  If you are trying to focus, TURN THEM OFF.
  • [~ 1:20] Team building exercises in companies are largely a waste of time (who didn't know that?).  There are very simple things that help us feel bonded with one another.
  • [~ 3:00] Us vs. Them is a great impulse in team building.  This links back to my recent reading on tribes (here and here).  The sense of "us" has a very powerful bonding effect for people.  Nass cautions that it has to be thought through.  If everyone is "us," then the sense of team is diluted somewhat.  The other readings I've done suggest that if the whole company or division is "us" then the "them" needs to be either the competition or a larger societal enemy.  And I think Nass is suggesting that the types of motivation and bonding from this level of us vs. them is different from a small team of "us."
  • [3:20] People that multi-task all the time
    • Less able to discern relevant from irrelevant
    • Less able to manager their memory
    • Less able to switch from task to task
  • [3:45] Designing interfaces to encourage multi-tasking is the wrong thing to do.
  • [4:20] If you want to check email, you must spend 15 minutes with it.  I saw this one yesterday and really liked the idea behind it.  Force yourself (or design a system) to spend longer stretches of time when you switch tasks.  This will essentially create a mindset of single-tasking instead. 
  • [5:00] We know more is coming, we just don't know always what it will look like. 
  • [5:15] We can't have everything.  We can't handle the problem of "more" by doing many things simultaneously.  We need to become more discriminating and make harder choices.  Specifically, we need to stop saying "yes" to everything, and explicitly decide what we will NOT consume, particularly when new materials become available.  I can't read every book I'd like to read, why would I think that all email, news, etc needs to be reviewed just because it happens to be on new media? 
  • [6:30] (more detail on the opening quote). Random reinforcement is the best way to grab your attention - better than regular reinforcement.  The brain is just wired that way.  Turn off the gadgets / alerts!
  • [~7:00] Instead, make a conscious decision about what you are going to do in each block of time.  At the end of the block scan the possible input streams and possible activities, and focus on that for the next block of time.  Nass suggests that those blocks are 15-30 minutes.  Others like to operate in 5 or 10 minute blocks.  Take your pick and try it.

[Found the GigaOm piece via Luis Suarez's article today - Is Multitasking Bad for the Brain? – Part Deux: Singlecasting]

Let's try some monotasking instead

TOC in action