Single-Tasking Makes You Smarter (2014)

Flex your cortex — 7 secrets to turbocharge your brain
December 2014

Why Single-Tasking Makes You Smarter
By Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D.
Forbes. May 8, 2013

Multitasking is a brain drain that exhausts the mind, zaps cognitive resources and, if left unchecked, condemns us to early mental decline and decreased sharpness. Chronic multitaskers also have increased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, which can damage the memory region of the brain.

… the immediate satisfaction of beeps, dings and buzzes. Each creates an addicting release of dopamine in the brain, which perpetuates the need for speed and ceaseless stimulation, making the cycle more difficult to break.

3 Steps to Single-Tasking:

  • Give your brain some down time.
  • Focus deeply, without distraction.
  • Make a to-do list. Then identify your top two priorities for the day and make sure they are accomplished above all else.


Make Your Brain Smarter (book)


The brain is very good at deluding itself

the frontal lobe houses the “executive system” of the brain

Think You’re Multitasking? Think Again
by Jon Hamilton
October 02, 2008

Multitasking: A Human Delusion?
“People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves,” said neuroscientist Earl Miller. And, he said, “The brain is very good at deluding itself.”

Miller, a Picower professor of neuroscience at MIT, says that for the most part, we simply can’t focus on more than one thing at a time.
What we can do, he said, is shift our focus from one thing to the next with astonishing speed.
“Switching from task to task, you think you’re actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you’re actually not,” Miller said.
“You’re not paying attention to one or two things simultaneously, but switching between them very rapidly.”

Miller said there are several reasons the brain has to switch among tasks. One is that similar tasks compete to use the same part of the brain.

even simple tasks can overwhelm the brain when we try to do several at once.

we frequently overestimate our ability to handle multiple tasks.
For early humans, that sort of miscalculation could have meant becoming a tiger’s lunch. These days, the consequences are more likely to be stress, a blunder — or maybe a car crash.

Computers Decide Whether You Will Get Your Next Job

Will A Computer Decide Whether You Get Your Next Job?
NPR. December 20, 2013

a couple of years ago, Xerox hired a company to help the company do a better job of finding the right people.
This company, called Evolv, began collecting lots of data about the people applying for jobs at Xerox call centers.
The applicants had to answer extensive surveys with questions like: “Which word better characterizes you: ‘consistent’ or ‘witty’?”
Applicants were tested on pattern recognition and multitasking.

With these new techniques, Xerox says it has been able to improve its hiring and significantly reduce turnover at its call centers.

Other companies that parse employee data are finding surprising results.
Michael Rosenbaum of Pegged Software, a company that works with hospitals, says one piece of conventional wisdom is flat-out wrong: “We find zero statistically significant correlation between a college degree or a master’s degree and success as a software developer.”

Of course, using data to drive hiring decisions has its problems. Employers guided by data could wind up skipping over promising candidates.
But Barbara Marder of the consulting firm Mercer points out that the way companies hire now has its own flaws.

“A lot of these new techniques do have the potential to eliminate biases,” Marder says.

How Do You Find A Job? Ask The Algorithm
November 06, 2009
cited in:

Harvard Business Review > Your Brain at Work

Your Brain at Work
Harvard Business Review. July-August, 2013

unlock the secrets of leadership and marketing from the brain.

thinking and behavior don’t map onto brain regions one-to-one.

networks of brain regions activate in concurrent patterns.

concepts crucial to managers, include:
• how to enable creative thinking
• how to structure rewards
• the role of emotion in decision making
• the opportunities and pitfalls of multitasking

Neuroscientists have discovered as many as 15 neural networks and subnetworks.
The four described below, along with their implications for knowledge work, are considered core and are the best understood.

The Default Network
Activates: When people are awake but not focused on external stimuli or any specific goal.
What it controls: Introspective thought and the ability to envision the past, the future, or alternative realities.
Crucial for understanding: Creative thinking and breakthrough innovation.

The Reward Network
Activates: In response to stimuli that induce enjoyment—such as food and water, money, and praise.
What it controls: Perceptions of pleasure and displeasure.
Crucial for understanding: Motivation and incentives.

The Affect Network
Activates: When people experience emotions.
What it controls: Autonomic and endocrine responses (alterations in blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature) that the brain interprets as feelings.
Crucial for understanding: Hunches and gut instincts, and the role that emotions play in decision making.

The Control Network
Activates: When people weigh long-term consequences, check their impulses, and selectively focus their attention.
What it controls: People’s ability to align their behavior with their goals.
Crucial for understanding: The benefits and risks of multitasking and how to set and manage priorities.

Edward Tufte Wants You to See Better

Edward Tufte Wants You to See Better
January 18, 2013
Data scientist Edward Tufte (dubbed the “Galileo of graphics” by BusinessWeek) pioneered the field of data visualization. Tufte discusses what he calls “forever knowledge,” and his latest projects: sculpting Richard Feynman’s diagrams, and helping people “see without words.”

02:24 The Thinking Eye
03:30 How ca we see better?
devote all the brain processing power to seeing
I said to my friend “Let’s just not talk”
What happens to seeing, just seeing?
the environment itself should be quiet
seeing better -> thinking more clearly

7:00 The two optic nerves send 20 Megabits/second of information to the brain
7:26 The brain likes to economize.
7:34 If you’re told what to look for, you can’t see anything else.
Confirmation bias
7:49 Once you have a point of view all history will back you up.

teaching <> analytical seeing
Richard Feynman‘s diagrams
information throuput
information resolution
13:32 foreverness of science
forever cognitive tasks: causality, making comparisons, assessing the credibility of a display
~ 19: Nate Silver
19:25 Steve Jobs
You design the surface first, and then you view the software as simply, you know, hey, is there – anybody – any software out there that can solve the problem?
the viewer’s cognitive task
21:08 Is there data that cant’s be visualized well?
No, if you bring an artist
Picasso’s “Guernica,” one of the, you know, best few paintings of the 20th century and probably the best thing about the horror of war ever done, the unspeakable horror of war

The da Vinci of Data
March 30, 1998

In Defense of Nate Silver, Election Pollsters, and Statistical Predictions
By Zeynep Tufekci

Grand truths about human behavior

Brain: Memory and Multitasking (TED talk)

TEDxSanJoseCA – Brain: Memory and Multitasking
Adam Gazzaley, MD, PhD
April 17, 2011

13:00 Impact of distraction on long-term memory (3 scenarios: eyes shut, looking at gray screen or busy visual picture)

14:23 how exquisite sensitive  our memory is, even to the normal environmental stimulation that we can not escape

15:29 prefrontal cortex

15:56 In your visual cortex there is only room for 6 objects or even less at a time, depending on how complex they are
[c.f.: ]

17:23: Multitasking: Costs: – Time delays in switching – Impact on task performance (you don’t do 2 things as well as you do 1 thing)

17:50 Why do we multitask (some sources are anecdotal): – Flexibility – Fresh perspective – Increased variety – Enables us to use downtime productively – More fun

19:10 So, what can be done? – Change our behavior – Change our brains 20:05 Change our behavior: Establish rules – Important tasks demanding high quality should be given singular attention (e.g., quit mail, turn off phone, shut the door). – Boring, easier, less critical tasks are better candidates for multitasking

21:00 Change our brain: Neuroracer


How to Be Good at Multitasking