Mental Juggling Works Against You
by Ricardo Rodriguez-Long
Before the coronavirus struck the world, the average adult spent almost four hours a day on non-working related computer tasks and using mobile devices, according to Nielsen Research Group. Twenty-five percent of that time was spent on social media. While social media certainly has its upside, it can also have a downside, reinforcing our preconceptions and even amplifying our anger. Slowly, texting and other applications are replacing voice-to-voice conversations. Time spent on smartphones cost U.S. companies well over $10 billion/week in lost productivity, according to a Bloomberg news report.
Mobile devices keep getting better, smarter, faster, and more connected. But at the same time, they sometimes make us feel dumb, distracted, from what is going on around us, and even divided. In his book, The Distracted Mind, Adam Gazzaley presents a theory many neuroscientists also posit: That there is a gap between all we want to know and our limited capacity for sustained attention.
Over a lifetime our brains can store about one billion bits of data. That sounds pretty impressive until you compare that to the roughly 74 terabytes of information in the Library of Congress. But the way our brains have developed through history and adaptation hasn’t prepared us for the data onslaught of the last 25 years. Our brains evolved to focus on one thing at a time. Today’s overwhelming amount of data, available at our fingertips, is pushing us to do what is humanly impossible.
It is amazing that we are still able to create and follow through with a plan of action, yet our ability to remain focused on one thing only is now more difficult than ever. If in doubt, try just thinking of nothing for 120 seconds. The new devices with their noises, vibrations, alarms, and flashes, can’t help but distract us from the task of the moment. Additionally, our always searching minds have now grown accustomed to limitless and quick answers to our questions. Social media, games, news, everything that stimulates our brains is right there for us to be entertained or informed and distracted. I have found myself sidetracked after a posting from a friend on Facebook led me to a website, and then to a full academic report on something that, while good to know, would not make any difference in my life.
Interruption has always been the obstacle to achieving a particular goal. You may be giving a 100 percent, and then the phone rings, or an email arrives, or a report needs to take priority. And with each interruption that takes our attention from one task to another there is a very high cost. A report from UCLA indicates that on average it takes 15 minutes to resume work on a project or task that requires concentration (for example, a multipage report, an accountant’s report, and so on). So, interruptions affect our ability to do the work needed to be done. This mental juggling also creates mental fatigue and frustration.
The overloading of our mental capacity is also limiting our memory bank since we are not focusing enough time to properly retain things in our heads. You may be great at mobile multitasking, but the facts are that the more you do two, or three, or four things at the same time on your mobile phone, the more prone you are to make mistakes.