Multi-tasking and your little grey cells

Last week I wrote with my laptop propped on my open front desk drawer because the desk surface was covered with other projects-in-process: Eliana’s completed homework, awaiting star stickers and smiley faces; a stack of thank you notes to be completed; blog topic ideas that need to be cataloged and scheduled; books I want to read; forms to complete; a fitness club schedule; a flier for an upcoming play; paperwork from my mom’s estate; and women’s ministry ideas and correspondence. My morning pot of tea was also stacked in there, somehow.

It seems I fell into the multitasking trap again. No matter how cluttered and inefficient the piles become, I convince myself that I can do it all, and do it well, all while listening to podcasts or music and possibly texting my bestie in Missouri. My brain can handle it, right? Fictional detective Hercule Poirot once said that without constant exercise, his “little grey cells would starve and die.” My little grey cells were getting plenty of nourishment. Unfortunately, that reasoning is as fictional as the man who said it.

It turns out that multitasking is not just inefficient; it’s dangerous! The University of Sussex released a study that warns multitasking may damage our brains. Grey matter (that bundle of tissue and nerves insider our heads) may be damaged–even reduced!– if we are over-using media devices.

Have you ever…
…texted while watching television?
… listened to music or podcasts while reading articles?
…talked on the phone while checking your Facebook page?

Your brain could be in danger!

It’s so easy to do.  I recently spent an entire evening playing around on Pinterest while my family watched a movie on TV in the same room, and I took breaks to check texts or Facebook. Those poor little grey cells!

And multi-tasking doesn’t even work, according to another study by Stanford University. Apparently no one is good at multi-tasking. “People who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time,” the researchers said. None of the test subjects could do it. And the more you multi-task, they concluded, the more distractible you become. Even though most people in the study believed they were good at doing several things at once, one researcher summed it up this way: “They’re suckers for irrelevancy.”

This really isn’t news, and it’s something the Bible warns us about in several places. Consider the account of Martha and Mary, two sisters who followed Jesus. Their story appears in Luke 10.

Jesus and his disciples stopped at Martha’s home, and naturally she wanted to give her guests something to eat. Yet she went overboard, doing many preparations instead of something simple. Maybe she thought she could still catch the teaching while she was bustling back and forth, preparing food and serving.

Meanwhile, her sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to his teaching. Martha got a little uppity about this, and asked Jesus to scold Mary and send her back to the kitchen. Instead, Jesus zeroed in on Martha’s multi-tasking, reminding her that she should have been focusing on quality time with him, instead.

“Martha, Martha! You are worried and upset over all these details. There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42

In all of our busy-ness, there are tasks that need to be done, and sometimes they will threaten to crowd out your time with Jesus. But for the sake of our spiritual health, and for the sake of the grey matter in our brains, we need to make sure we choose to do the most important thing first, and try to break the multi-tasking habit. “There is only one thing worth being concerned about,” Jesus said. The question for me—and maybe for you—is have you focused on that one thing, or are you too busy serving?

I’ll talk more about multi-tasking, and offer up some tools for digging out from under the habit, in future posts. In the meantime, I’d like to hear from some of you about your multi-tasking challenges!