Multi-Tasking: Use At Your Own Risk

    This position would be suitable for an accomplished
    multi-tasker with an eye for detail, and accuracy.
Idiot or Great Man?
Everybody wants a multi-tasker. But, let me ask you this. Why is most juggling done by clowns? Answer? Because, multi-tasking is a fool's game.

Toggling between tasks is done by "the mental CEO", the executive controllers found in the brain's prefrontal cortex and parietal cortex.

These bosses prioritize tasks and assign the mind's resources to them.

The executive control mechanisms work in two stages:

1) Goal shifting :"I want to do this now instead of that."

2) Rule activation : "I'm turning off the rules for that and turning on the rules for this."

Rule activation takes several tenths of a second -- which can add up when people switch back and forth repeatedly between tasks.

Multi-Tasking (all he needs is a coffee & donut)
When test subjects were plugged into a brain scanner and told to switch quickly between two simple tasks they worked slowly.

The scanner showed that the part of the brain that prioritizes tasks and does higher-order thinking was taking a rest while switching.

Like an clunky, old computer, the frontal lobes "went blank, waiting for instructions for the next task to upload".

And in terms of quality of work, when the brain has to do more than one thing at once, it simply pays less attention to each.

Psychology Today quotes a study published in NeuroImage which claims that when people were asked to listen to sentences while comparing two rotating objects, Visual Input dropped 29% and Listening Success fell 53%.

And, apparently, good multi-taskers often appear rude because they cannot afford to pay any attention to courteous communication.

Leadership & Multi-Tasking

According to Steve Sailer, nerds are not multi-taskers. They tend to have a narrow and deep focus on one thing at a time.

He sees typical leaders as lively, assertive, dominance-seeking,
"hunter-warrior-jock" types.

They are more people-oriented (whereas nerds are object-oriented). And they are better at multi-tasking as they have a broad but shallow focus.

    Nerds [for instance] lack the "situational awareness" that the Air Force prizes in fighter pilots [lively and assertive jocks], but their ability to concentrate obsessively makes them good at designing the planes that pilots fly.
Sailer alludes to Bill Gates mentioning that the richest man in the world is a nerd. But, I've read that Gates is very good at switching from one task to another with no time required for adjustment at all.

If that's true, maybe Gates just looks like a nerd but isn't. Or, maybe it means that this nerd vs man-of-action typology isn't as clear cut as he says.

Psychology Today, Multi-Tasking: What's The Cost (PDF), Is Multi-Tasking More Efficient, Effect of Stress On The Brain. Mad Chad.

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