Recently a study by the University of Michigan revealed that the brain is not truly capable of performing many tasks at once. While it may seem like you can talk on your cell phone and drive at the same time, the authors of the study discovered the brain is actually switching from task to task. The brain puts one task down, so to speak, and takes a moment to pick up another one.
This job switching takes time. The study noted that the several tenths of a second it can take your brain to switch from one thing to another can add up to dangerous time. Take the aforementioned driving with the cell phone. During the time your brain is focused on the call, the car is still moving without it actually being under your control. That half second is enough time for an accident to occur. Scary thought, huh?
Any parent could have told them that multitasking is an illusion. While I may be simultaneously making dinner, unloading the dishwasher, helping with homework and thinking about the topic for my next blog post, I have a headache to prove that the synapses in my prefrontal cortex are sizzling under the demands. My life is lived in ten minute snippets of time. The path of unfinished tasks around my home tell the story of my fragmented life: a pile of half-folded laundry there; the computer opened to a half-written email here; the lonely grocery list sitting on the counter while I drive to the store.
The busy lives we weave together are not seamless. There are days the threads of our many tasks get tangled and snarled. But more often than not, we are putting down one and picking up the next thread with great skill. I have the deepest respect for the endless demands of all us multitasking parents. Just don't drive while talking on the cell phone!