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.

14 thoughts on “I swear I wasn’t smoking anything!

  1. I agree, that writing things down is inevitable if you want to be productive! But is it so important to use pen and paper? I think that computer or phone is good enough for writing things and the nowadays technology let us do such unimaginable things that in some cases it is even better to use it.
    If you ask me about multi-tasking, in my opinion it is easy to observe that people who regards to use it, forget things quite faster, because they are convinced of being capable of doing more in the same time – this comes to do things a bit messy, without expected amount of focus, and than it leads to forgetting.
    Still great post!

    • Ah yes John, so true! Thanks for sharing your insights and the link to your post – it’s a great read. Hope people jump across and digest the information you provided. It’s time we put our sensible educator heads together and sorted out the thinking in some of those random and over-promoted studies that have negative impact on our learning and teaching environments.

  2. Great Post Judy.
    What you have said is very true but fear the myth of mulittasking has been pushed for a number of years now (mind you just as it was taking hold in schools, the research you quoted was coming to the fore) yet another barrier to break down!!

  3. Pingback: Write now « READINGPOWER

  4. Your post made me think about how when I give a student a writing assignment, very often, I don’t give them time to think about what they are writing. Sometimes it is because I am afraid that it won’t look like learning to someone if they were to come into my classroom. Other times, some students put more thought into what they are writing than others, and finish more quickly, and I want my students to be engaged when they are in my class.

    It also made me think about when I write in my blog(s), how I will rush through to get a blog post out. I really have no reason to rush so why do I…I am not writing for anyone else’s learning, I am writing for my own.

  5. I’ve also been reading about the myth of multitasking and watched the Frontline documentary Digital Nation which includes the Stanford research, which is fascinating & makes perfect sense.

    I find it hard to settle on one task to do properly at times – so much richness and choice. But written composition and slow reading are rewarding activities and necessary to achieve anything requiring focus. At a conference last week I was very aware of the times I was doing other things whilst listening and wonder just how much I missed. Multitasking can make you feel smart and powerful, but also tired and superficial.

    Reflection is an important activity to provide for in school. Reading a book which stays with you for some time is still one of my favourite things to refresh the brain. A good movie can do the same thing, especially if there is someone to share with. I can see that writing also allows the mind to absorb and clarify. Even exams at their best can result in this type of writing if you know your stuff, yet our senior students increasingly prepare generic essays for exams (for HSC English at any rate).

    the problem is pedagogical, not technological

    In my opinion THIS HABIT can be reached either off line with Ipads OR netbooks (OR “pen and paper”) … Things change obviously if we are connected!!!

    • Marco, things certainly have changed because we are connected..I couldn’t manage professionally without my online connections and my tech tools. No quibbles on that front, though technology doesn’t always improve everything and more than pen and paper does. As an English teacher and information professional I’m very conscious about digging deeper than the obvious – and that’s really what I’m reflecting on. There’s still a place for ‘pen and paper’ tools – really there is. Good pedagogy is one thing. Good tools are another. What tools will I choose today – that’s the next question for me, and for my students.

  7. Lesleigh, it’s true…after reading these articles and thinking about what I do, I suddenly didn’t feel that I had to hide my note pads and moleskin mini notebooks any more 🙂 More than anything, I’m looking for synergy between my technology tools and my pens and paper tools. Who wants to give up being able to find just the right new pen, or the right new notebook for today!

  8. Ohhh I feel so much better after reading this post – thanks Judy.

    Fearing my attempts to juggle everything may have been an ‘age-thing’, I am now affirmed that I am actually trying to follow efficient methods to increase (or at least sustain) my productivity.

    Some people think that I am highly organised with an incredible memory (ha) but it is more like: well paced diary entries, effectual post-its, sound digital filing and a good old writing pad and a nice pen next to my computer. Misplace any one of these items and I enter an ungraceful melt down mode!

    Now I am going back to re-read your post to get more tips. Must send off your URL to some colleagues who often forget to check your blog. (they don’t write things down)

    • We, as older teachers, we are not digital natives: the effort (try to feel like our digital native students, and also try to guide them on top) must be ours. Here’s how I think the comparison might be: between being able to write authentic texts either directly with a keyboard on the screen (or with a dictaphone) and with a pen on paper. An example is that today, at the time of the aircraft, which can lead to Mauritius, you may also want to take a horse-drawn carriage ride to Florence. Both are not bad ideas at all, dont’ you think?

    • I must admit that multitasking has NEVER been my forte, and I believed this to be a deficit! This post is very comforting, and justifies my own use of teacher diary and post-its. Lesleigh, I write EVERYTHING down , either the old-fashioned way OR the computer way 🙂

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