Neuroscience in Business: What we can't do while 'multi-tasking'

The brain does not multi-task.   This simple biological fact has huge implications for business. 
What if your corporate culture accepts - even demands - multi-tasking?  You're as sharp as a drunk driver. You will miss - and misinterpret - as much of what is going on around you as someone who could be arrested for DUI.
Not only will you miss important information, you certainly will not generate new questions or solutions.  Responsive to market changes?  Forget it.  Figuring out new ways to deploy resources?  Not a chance.
Imagine that you're an auto manufacturer...Or an SEC official....Better yet, imagine that you find yourself in the midst of an economic downturn. Markets are jittery; customers and employees are fearful.  Your enterprise will thrive - or not - based on your ability to:

  • Notice what's going on - Be curious about what might be valuable in this new reality
  • Generate new solutions for new concerns
  • Provoke Customers' curiousity about new solutions.

Multi-tasking may be the most dangerous habit we've ever allowed.

27 Jun14:28

[...] The brain does not

By Neuroscience in Business: What we can’t do while ‘multi-task (not verified)

[...] The brain does not multi-task. This simple biological fact has huge implications for business…says Marsha Shenk in her blog “Neuroscience in Business: What we can’t do while Multi-Tasking.” [...]

04 Mar21:37

You're absolutely right, each

By Eva (not verified)

You're absolutely right, each brain is different. I observe some of my co-workers just sitting at their desks all day w/o interruption but I am not at my peak working that way...

I definitely do need to take a break and clear my mind at least 1/hour. Then when I go back to work, I often find that I have a renewed focus, and am better off working on something else completely. That mental break was a good way to find my priorities and refocus my strategy.

The mental breaks takes me away from the tactical/urgent tasks and lets me focus on the strategic/important issues.

04 Mar18:48

Hi Ellen, More people are

By Marsha Shenk (not verified)

Hi Ellen,

More people are recognizing how dangerous multi-tasking can be. Take a look at this article from HBR:

Very glad to hear that you're discouraging your children from blackberries

04 Mar18:41

Hi Eva, I often remind

By Marsha Shenk (not verified)

Hi Eva,

I often remind myself that we're all different, and that includes our neural wiring. For me, it's better to take a break every 40 min or so, and move around, stretch, and change my state using my body. Then I can go back to what I was doing or not.

What I think is really important is that everyone experiment, and be deeply respectful of what 'breaks' work best for them.

How about you?

28 Feb12:13

Thank you for confirming what

By ellen hoenig carlson (not verified)

Thank you for confirming what i've always known--that my brain doesn't multi-task well-- and I shouldn't try to learn to!

I think the single biggest distraction in organziations TODAY is the use of blackberry and laptops during meetings... To me this dangerous multi-tasking occurs everyday, in millions of meetings, and stifles listening, learning and innovation/collaboration...(I also see this breaking down family and personal time)

Totally agree that Leaders in organizations throughout the world, need to stop this and other kinds of multi-tasking...I know in my family, my boys have said no blackberry's allowed (or as they like to call it Girlberry's) And I'm glad to honor their request...

24 Feb21:41

You mention taking breaks is

By Eva (not verified)

You mention taking breaks is the best thing you can do for your brain. We have an attention span of 40 minutes at the most, and some studies say 20 minutes. Do you think it is better to take a short break and go back to what you were doing, or just switch gears completely? Or does it not matter at all? Interested in hearing your thoughts.


18 Feb11:59

You're ahead of the game.

By Marsha Shenk (not verified)

You're ahead of the game. Taking breaks is the best thing you can do for your brain, especially if you move around when you take a break. That will optimize your ability to concentrate.

Another boost you can give your brain is a fun question when you go 'back to work'. Rather than, 'OK, Let's get this research done', how about, 'What might delight me/my client about this research?' You'll find it much easier to concentrate.

17 Feb09:08

I've noticed over the years

By Janet Johnson (not verified)

I've noticed over the years that I've not been able to multitask at all. However, in the course of trying to multitask for years, I've successfully trained my brain to need breaks between tasks quite often, which is unfortunate. I'd like to learn how to train my brain back to a state of quiet concentration. Any tips for that?

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