Multi-tasking Makes You Stupid

I’ve been saying for years that multitasking makes us stupid rather than productive so it’s nice finally to hear others saying the same things. My comments on multitasking as it relates to pastoral ministry are at the end.

Now there is a book that addresses the issue head-on: The Myth of Multitasking by Dave Crenshaw. He says that when we multitask, we’re really “switch-tasking,” that is, we’re really only doing one thing at a time, we’re just jumping around from task to task. Clearly, that’s not the most productive way. I would add that it’s the way we’ve been conditioned by TV and the internet. Here’s a mini-review of the book and an interview with Dave Crenshaw at The Daily Saint. (It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who repeatedly tells his kids, “One thing at a time.”)

Nicholas Carr wrote an excellent article in the Atlantic Monthly on the conditioning of our brains as a result of the internet. This article has gotten much press in the blogosphere: Is Google Making us Stupid? and on his blog he lists some further resources about the issue.

Ken Myers interacts with this article over at the evangelical outpost in a cleverly-named article (and I mean that in a good way) That’s Why They Call Them Browsers.

Two other articles I’ve found helpful with regard to multitasking (HT to Myers):

The Myth of Multitasking by Christine Rosen

The Autumn of the Multitaskers by Istvan Banyai

Multitasking and the Pastor

To my fellow pastors, I recommend against anything that resembles multitasking, especially when studying. The two biggest distractions for me (and I’m guessing for others) are the phone and the internet.

Turn off the ringer on the phone and let it go to voicemail. If, it’s important (or an emergency), they’ll find a way to get in touch with you. My experience has been that most of the phone calls I get during the day fall into the not-really-important category anyway, no matter how important they may seem to the person calling (and remember, urgent does not necessarily equal important). And most emergencies I don’t find out about until after-the-fact anyway.

As far as the internet goes, it’s too easy to switch over to Firefox just to check my email…again, or to check the latest headlines. (I’ve written on this before here.)

I’m not the only one fighting against this: one pastor I know often goes to the coffee shop near his church and does work. I have often retreated to a local seminary’s library where the wireless internet is only for students (And I don’t even have to lug my books there.) I’ve also started doing more with pen and paper. Writing things out longhand forces me to concentrate in a way that typing on a screen has never done. And, I have a tendency to remember it better (and longer).

As Piper says, “Brothers, Fight for Your Life” in chapter ten of Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. (Warning: Do not read this book unless you are ready to be under conviction.)

Note: This chapter would also be beneficial to any Christian seeking to secure some time to read and study good Christian books as well as God’s Word.

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About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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