This was a great post by Six Secondsat
When I first read that media multitasking was bad for your ability to focus, I didn’t think that much of it. Honestly, though, I was half focused on a podcast I had on in the background. Then I Googled media multitasking…
Media multitasking means engaging with multiple streams of media simultaneously: switching between email, web browsing, checking text messages, listening to music, etc.
Oh. Hmm…Oh no! That’s totally me. So, um, what does that do to my ability to focus?
The Effects of Media Multitasking
Every year, the stream of alerts, notifications and unread messages is more constant than ever. While we are responding to emails, we get a notification about our recent post and find ourselves scrolling through Facebook. Then a text comes in about our plans that evening, and we respond to that. Sometimes we are streaming music or a podcast in the background, too. What was I doing before? Oh yeah, responding to emails!
Research has shown that this type of chronic media multitasking is associated with deficits in cognitive control. Compared to controls who multitasked infrequently, high media multitaskers were more likely to be distracted by irrelevant environmental stimuli and performed worse on cognitive tests that measured task switching ability. Basically, high media multitaskers can’t focus as well.
Is there anything that can be done to help these multitaskers, like me, to focus?
Mindfulness Is What the Doctor Ordered
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, looked at this exact question. Could a short-term mindfulness meditation intervention improve multitaskers’ performance on these cognitive tasks related to focus?
The mindfulness study found that not only did the mindfulness intervention program improve scores on cognition control tasks, but the improvements were disproportionately large for the heavy media multitaskers. The best part is that the difference in scores was produced by replacing only 10 minutes of web browsing with 10 minutes of a breath counting task. So replacing only 10 minutes of web browsing with focused breathing can help reverse the negative effects of our fast paced, digital world.
In this digital era, practicing mindfulness is more important than ever. When we have so many inputs vying for our attention at any given moment, we need to actively practice our ability to hone in on what’s truly important.