They are at their desk. There’s homework to be completed. The books are open, the iPod is on shuffle and hard-wired to their ears, their phone is chirping and flashing as texts arrive and are sent, and the computer is scrolling with instant messages…
Just another evening in an adolescent’s bedroom, right?
There’s been a lot said about the ability of teenagers to multitask and, certainly from my perspective, they seem more capable of handling a variety of simultaneous activities far more effectively that I am. Surely there is no real problem here; after all, multitasking is a necessary and expected part of our life, isn’t it.
Not too long ago, I would have said ‘yes’. Indeed, my busy work life has had me handling many things and feeling the need to jump from one event to the next, from one thought process to another on a daily basis.
But my thoughts have been challenged recently by an article titles Monotasking is the new multitasking. In a nut-shell, the author reports on research done by Clifford Nash who says people who regularly multitask “can’t filter out irrelevancy”. Indeed, you only have to google the term monotasking and you’ll be provided with a plethora of possibilities to ponder, including a fun little TED talk by Paolo Cardino that you should take the time to watch.
The article I read indicated 5 things we should do to minimise multitasking and start the move toward monotasking. Parents and teachers should take note of these and encourage adolescent learners to understand their realities for learning. These five things, listed below, were proposed by Australian Psychotherapist Nelly Cullen.
- Create a distraction-free work environment
- Reduce potential interruptions to your work
- Disengage from other work
- Be present in the moment
- Set time limits for intense work and take breaks.
For the adolescent learner, I believe this means…
- Getting rid of the phone and IM apps when homework is being done
- Justifying the type of music that is being listened to when working. Interestingly, and perhaps frustratingly for teens, research indicates this is Mozart or Tchaikovsky or Corelli.
- Short but intense bursts of learning time is best. Parents can help with this by helping teens to gradually increase the length of these work bursts. Perhaps through the early teen years it might be up to ten minutes at a time with short, active breaks. By late secondary school, this should be set at an optimum 20 to 45 minutes at a time, again with an active break where movement is involved.
No matter how you look at it, it seems we all might have to do some re-evaluation of our work habits, I reckon…