An Impossible Skill


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Multitasking is a mythical activity in which people believe they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously.*

As you’re reading this, are you doing something else at the same time? Maybe you’re trying to listen to a conversation between co-workers. You might think you’re doing both, but—and this may come as a surprise—you’re not. Scientists have learned that our brains don’t process more than one stream of information at a time.**

When you read, your brain absorbs the information it receives through the act of reading. But, when you try to read and listen to the neighboring conversation, your brain interrupts your concentration to drift over to the conversation for a few seconds. When that happens, you no longer comprehend the words on the page. The time “away” is so fleeting that you may not realize you’re not fully focused on the original task of reading, leading you to believe you’re multitasking.

Now, switch the situation to driving. Your brain is unable to process simultaneous activities, period. Do you still think you can multitask behind the wheel? Keep in mind that, during the time your mind wanders from focusing on driving to focusing on something else, you are now a distracted driver. Your vehicle may have traveled hundreds of feet and, depending on the duration of the distraction, you could wind up involved in something much more disastrous than just “unconscious” driving.

Whenever you head to the job site, you drive on behalf of the company. That means you have the added responsibility of not only protecting everyone else who shares the road with you, but protecting your company as well. Before you get behind the wheel, understand the gravity of distracted driving, and what it could mean to you, your employer—and possibly your job.

First, know the three kinds of distractions. Then devise ways to avoid them.

  • Visual – anything that takes your eyes off the road. This includes things both inside and outside the car.
  • Manual – anything that takes your hands off the wheel. Two hands are much better than one for keeping control and making corrective maneuvers.
  • Cognitive – anything that takes your mind off driving. This is known as inattentive blindness. It’s often what happens when you drive somewhere and don’t remember the drive itself.

As much as we’d all like to believe we can multitask, our brains simply will not let us do so effectively. Being distracted while reading is relatively harmless; being distracted while driving is not. When you’re focused on driving, it could help you avoid the guy in the next lane who isn’t.

* “The Myth of Multitasking” by Christine Rosen, The New Atlantis, 2008 http://www.thenewatlantis.com/docLib/20080605_TNA20Rosen.pdf
** http://www.forbes.com/sites/carolkinseygoman/2011/04/26/the-myth-of-multitasking/

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