I swear I wasn’t smoking anything!

“I swear I wasn’t smoking anything. But I might as well have been”… is a tantalising statement in an article from Harvard Business Review earlier this year on How (and Why) to Stop Multitasking. To quote:

A study showed that people distracted by incoming email and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQs. What’s the impact of a 10-point drop? The same as losing a night of sleep. More than twice the effect of smoking marijuana. Doing several things at once is a trick we play on ourselves, thinking we’re getting more done. In reality, our productivity goes down by as much as 40%. We don’t actually multitask. We switch-task, rapidly shifting from one thing to another, interrupting ourselves unproductively, and losing time in the process. You might think you’re different, that you’ve done it so much you’ve become good at it. Practice makes perfect and all that. But you’d be wrong. Research shows that heavy multitaskers are less competent at doing several things at once than light multitaskers. In other words, in contrast to almost everything else in your life, the more you multitask, the worse you are at it. Practice, in this case, works against you.

The value of this article hit home for me yesterday when I read 7 Powerful Reasons Why You Should Write Things Down. I’ve not read Henrik Edberg’s book – could be good or bad for all I know.

But I do like some of the sentiments he expressed, particularly when I think about multi-tasking, and the use of technology.  I do believe that educators have to stop and think a little about  how important it is to promote reflective writing in our students. There is very good value in stopping and thinking AND there is still very good value in stopping and thinking with a pen and paper.

Well, of course, I’m not pushing against technology so much as pushing for technology melded with the a form of technology that is less  conducive to multitasking – i.e. writing on paper. It’s about capturing ideas. It can be about the tactile experience of writing those ideas down. Of focussing your full attention on the ideas as you write. Of letting those ideas rest. Of crafting and making by hand something that is an expression of our own thinking.

I liked some of these concepts shared by Henrik too:

Unloading your mental RAM. When you don’t occupy your mind with having to remember every little thing  you become less stressed and it becomes easier to think clearly. This is, in my opinion, one of the most important reasons to write things down.

Clearer thinking. If you want to solve a problem it can be helpful to write down your thoughts, facts and feelings about it. Then you don’t have to use your for mind for remembering, you can instead use it to think more clearly. Having it all written down gives you an overview and makes it easier to find new connections that can help you solve the problem.

Well, I have to admit, I do like notebooks, and nice pens.

Perhaps I’m just reflecting my age – or reflecting the values of an age that we shouldn’t lose just because we love technology!

My kids always wrote journals for their holidays and some of these are the nicest things we have to remember who they were when they were young. While I love to see and hear about the amazing feats of students who excel in virtual worlds, gaming and the like – I personally still stake a lot of value in the slow, deep, and reflective practice of writing.

The trick is to allow our students to have the time to acquire the habit and the skill of writing for pleasure, relaxation, reflection and learning. Sadly, I feel that schooling has slammed the door shut on this most wonderful of capabilities.