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)

Augmented intelligence

Big Data and the Rise of Augmented Intelligence
Sean Gourley at TEDxAuckland
Dec 5, 2012

Dr. Sean Gourley is the founder and CTO of Quid. He is a Physicist by training. Sean worked at NASA on self-repairing nano-circuits and is a two-time New Zealand track and field champion. Sean is now based in San Francisco where he is building tools to augment human intelligence.

The top chess players in the world are not humans OR computers, but combinations of humans AND computers.  Gourley argues that the world we are living in is too complex for any single human mind to understand and that we need to team up with machines to make better decisions.

see also:

Limits of Strategic Thinking

Structure Data 2014: How Humans and Machines Can Team Up to Solve Big Problems
GIGAOM, Apr 11, 2014
In the same way a microscope helps augment the innate ability of the human eye, Quid creates tools to augment how we as humans process unstructured data and visualize it.

Sean Gourley — Founder and CTO, Quid

see also:

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.

Bandwidth poverty

Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function
Science 30 August 2013: 341 (6149): 976-980
Anandi Mani, Sendhil Mullainathan, Eldar Shafir3, Jiaying Zhao
Harvard Kennedy School
John F. Kennedy School of Government
mental resources

journalistic versions:

June 13, 2014
The demands of the moment override the demands of the future, making that future harder to reach.

“There are three types of poverty,” he says. “There’s money poverty, there’s time poverty, and there’s bandwidth poverty.” The first is the type we typically associate with the word. The second occurs when the time debt of the sort I incurred starts to pile up.

And the third is the type of attention shortage that is fed by the other two: If I’m focused on the immediate deadline, I don’t have the cognitive resources to spend on mundane tasks or later deadlines.
If I’m short on money, I can’t stop thinking about today’s expenses — never mind those in the future. In both cases, I end up making decisions that leave me worse off because I lack the ability to focus properly on anything other than what’s staring me in the face right now, at this exact moment.


You are so focused on the urgent that …

Sendhil Mullainathan on Scarcity
2013 Global Empowerment Meeting. Nov. 11, 2013
CID Harvard

Harvard University economics professor …  explains how scarcity – and our flawed responses to it – shapes our lives, our society, and our culture.
scarcity generates a similar psychological reaction for everyone struggling to manage with less than they need. The dynamics of scarcity reveal why dieters find it hard to resist temptation, why students mismanage their time and why sugarcane farmers are smarter after the harvest than before.
Scarcity provides a new way of understanding why the poor stay poor and reveals not only how scarcity leads us astray …

Lexical Decision Task

time scarciy has this huge productive benefit

Raven’s progressive matrices: fluid intelligence

26:55 the effect of thinking about money for the poor has the same magnitude as going a night without sleep

28:20 ~ 9 IQ points

fault tolerance


Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much
Sendhil Mullainathan
The Aspen Institute. Sep 26, 2013

How Scarcity Trap Affects Our Thinking, Behavior
January 02, 2014
by Shankar Vedantam

Scarcity, whether of time or money, tends to focus the mind on immediate challenges.
You stretch your budget to make ends meet.
People in the grip of scarcity are tightly focused on meeting their urgent needs, but that focus comes at a price.
Important things on the periphery get ignored.

That’s at the heart of the scarcity trap. You are so focused on the urgent that the important gets waylaid. But because the important gets waylaid, you’re experiencing even more scarcity tomorrow.