You know what happens when you have too many windows open on your desktop – at best your computer’s response time is reduced to a crawl, at worst…crash! Your brain may react the same way to multitasking, according to “Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching,” an August 2001 study. In clinical experiments, study groups were asked to complete a combination of tasks. Subjects who alternated between activities took substantially longer than those who tackled one job at a time, says David Meyer, a University of Michigan professor of psychology, who is one of the study’s authors. Meyer estimates “switching-time costs” to be as high as 25 per cent to 50 per cent more per individual task, depending on its complexity and familiarity.
But with practice there is hope for improvement, Meyer says. “In order to be optimized for multitasking, you have to be able to willfully control your attention,” something that is emphasized in many meditative practices. Still, he warns, “no matter how hard you try, you will never be as good multitasking as you are concentrating on one task.”