Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Do Few Things, But Do Them Well
I'm not a much of a multitasker. Sure, I may have four browser windows open, one of which is an episode of "Friday Night Lights" that is slowly buffering; I may have stacks of graded and ungraded papers surrounding me; I have my iPod playing, and I have Tweetdeck open in my background, sending a quick "pop" each time there's a new tweet. I may try to do many things at once, but I'm not good at it.
In Montessori school--I attended a public one through sixth grade--we were taught to retrieve "work" from the shelf, complete it at our own pace, and then return it to its spot. I wrote about it in a post last summer, Progressive Building Blocks. The philosophy of Montessori discourages multitasking and promotes focused, engaged learning. A spat of articles the past few years further debunks the idea that we can do many things at a time.
In "The Myth of Multitasking," Tanya Watkins writes that "chronic high-stress multitasking is associated with short-term memory loss." She cites a study that indicates that subjects who are interrupted during a task take 50% longer to complete that task and make 50% more errors than those who are uninterrupted. "Managing two mental tasks at once," she says, "reduced the brainpower available for either task."
While I've known for years that I can't multi-task, it's good to know that no one else can either - they're just kidding themselves. Back to grading: I had rewarded myself with thirty minutes of writing time after finishing one set of papers.