Friday, October 3, 2008

Multi-tasking with a single brain

I had one eye and one ear open this morning in time to hear an NPR Morning Edition story on multi-tasking. It was quite a relief to hear that scientists have determined that it is not possible for our brains to do two things at once.

I thought it was just me. I am so glad I am not alone.

Apparently, MRIs show our brains can very quickly slip back and forth between several things but we cannot actually do two at once. I think this is most commonly demonstrated with the picture of the “vase/two people looking at each other” illustration. One can either see a vase or the two people but never both at once.

Thank goodness the burden to learn to text while I drive has been lifted from my shoulders.

I always felt that this distinct inability to spread my focus among several simultaneous things was my weakest link in early childhood teaching. I just can’t do the trick where you keep 6 plates spinning on top of poles. I was fine when it was story time and we were all sitting quietly on the rug contemplating the latest Kevin Henkes book. But, I was woefully inadequate when the situation called for me to work with a few students, keep the rest gainfully employed, keep an ear out for all call messages, greet the visiting family at the door, think about what was coming up next on the schedule, remember where I set my lesson plan book, settle a dispute between friends and prevent a fight between enemies all while using my TPESP (teacher powers of extra sensory perception) to monitor what was really happening in the boys room. I just couldn’t do it. And furthermore, trying to do it simply wore me out.

Dear reader, if you know an early childhood teacher: find that person and give him/her a hug. If you are an early childhood teacher. . . well, I will pray for you and God bless!

The urge to multi-task is not limited to our wonderful early childhood teachers. It is prevalent everywhere in our society. We eat while we drive, shop while talking on the phone, discipline our children while fixing supper, listen to our mp3 players while riding our bikes and dine with our families while watching TV. Good grief, we even read while sitting on the toilet. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we try to do so much? Why is it better to do many things fairly well than to do one thing with all our minds? Why do we keep trying to do something, which is rarely, if ever, successful when we admit it makes us miserable?

It sounds like insanity, yet, somehow the answer has to be “sin.”

C.S. Lewis noted that the root of all sin is pride. The root of pride is our pitiful attempt to make ourselves god. Now, I don’t really mean to imply that reading in the bathroom is a prideful act. I really don’t want to discuss private bathroom affairs at all, thank you. Lately, God has been reminding me that He did not create me to do many things at once. He created me to do one thing; to serve Him. When I was learning to be an interpreter for the Deaf I remember being warned that when I was talking with a mixed group (hearing and Deaf) I should not try to talk and sign at the same time. In fact, the Deaf refer to this as “macho signing.” Deaf people had evidence that you could not speak in two languages at once and they knew that their language would get the short end of the brain. I am coming to the realization that I cannot serve God and do ten other things at the same time. If I try, everything I do will suffer.

Yet, how do we reconcile this with the busyness of our lives and the work we need to do? We can’t completely clear our schedules (after all, at least our kids need to eat) and sit patiently in a chair with our Bible. The cloistered life of a monastery works for some but not for all. We have driving, listening, talking, cooking, cleaning, reading, paying, exercising, planning, sleeping, playing to do and a limited amount of time in which to do it. How do we stop ourselves from multi-tasking?

It sounds like an impossibility, yet, somehow the answer has to be “integrate the faith.”

When Jesus lived on earth He accomplished our salvation and He did it all without a palm pilot or a cell phone. He did it by living a life that integrated the faith into everything He did. He did it by serving our Heavenly Father and by doing the work that was set out before Him. And He did it with prayer.

My schedule is no less busy than it was at this time last year; although, I am eternally grateful that I no longer have to monitor the boy’s room. My life is no less stressful than it was at this time last year; but I feel less stress. The difference is that God is bringing me around to realize that I can do only one thing at a time and that is to serve Him. He sets out my schedule for me like a parent setting out school clothes on the bed in the morning. Then He helps me to do what is asked and to do it with a servant’s heart. He is changing me little by little. I don’t have to do everything at once. I don’t have to do everything. I just need to follow Him.

This will be a big change. This will be a change orchestrated only by God. I have a long way to go and a lifetime of watching God work.


You have searched me and You know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;

You perceive my thought from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;

You are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue You know it completely,

O LORD.You hem me in-behind and before;

You have laid Your hand upon me,

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

Psalm 139:1-6

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a good one. It is not easy but I've been working on choosing one task at a time to see through and trusting that the other "pending" things will not crash before I get to them. I also find the fruit of attempted multitasking is not confidence ("I've got all bases covered") but rather, a nameless agitation that won't go away when you actually ARE done with the "do list".