Thursday, April 03, 2008

Is Multi-Tasking a Good Thing?

A popular term of worship in recent years has been “multi-tasking.” It is worn by many as a badge of honor. But I believe that only jugglers are truly good at keeping several balls in the air at the same time. Most of us function more efficiently if we keep a shorter list, trying not to do too many things at once. Personal experience and observation have led me to think this way. I also believe a frenzied pace can be deadly, that constant underlying stress is a killer.

Those who doubt this argue that our minds and bodies evolved to handle stress without serious health consequences, that our cave dweller ancestors knew stress in spades. I agree that encountering a hungry saber-tooth tiger must have been enormously more stressful than you or me cramming too many appointments into a narrow time frame. The difference however with the tiger is that the immediate response to fight or run managed the cave dweller’s sudden jolt of action hormones. The adrenalin rush got used. Stress today is mostly of a different nature. It is a lower grade sort — but often unrelenting and without release. Though I’m sure we all prefer contemporary life to confronting saber-tooth tigers, the ongoing underlying tension and pressure of modern life can take its toll.

I am certainly not the first person to notice this. Surgeon Joseph McCaffrey, who has studied the affects of stress, says a lot of the stress today comes from juggling multiple tasks and trying to keep track of it all in our head. This, he says, also robs us of part of our brainpower that might otherwise be used to actually think, to create and problem solve.

He recommends writing down multiple tasks, keeping a list to be checked off as responsibilities are met. This simple act frees a part of our brain that was trying to keep track of everything in memory and can reduce stress by making the demands of modern life more manageable.

I say Amen to that. Along with regular exercise and periodic relaxation breaks, you not only improve your odds of living a happier, healthier life, in the long term you will probably accomplish more than the always busy, busy, busy multi-taskers.

No comments: