I am the ultimate muti-tasker. I will send emails while holding a phone conference, baking cookies and watching the latest episode of The Office. But, when I drive, I drive. Period. I admit, I used to take my mad “skills” into the vehicle, until I began reading about what is really happening when you multi-task. Basically, it isn’t happening.
You may be going through the actions of doing several things at once, but your brain, as awesome as it is, is only capable of thinking about one task at a time. When you are doing more than one thing at a time, it constantly switches between one task and another. Some tasks, such as a lasagna in the oven doesn’t take a lot of cognitive (mental processes of perception, memory, judgment, and reasoning) brain power. It’s doing it’s thing and you can think about other tasks. The same goes for the activities you do over and over. Chewing gum and walking? No big deal. You’re used to doing both and there isn’t much to think about unless you are stepping through cactus.
Here’s the catch – most people think of driving as a rote (routine) activity and don’t always give it the attention it needs. They turn their blinker on when they turn and stop at the stop sign on their corner without thought. This is called “inattention blindness” where important information you may need falls away and is not processed by the brain. It can be those things you are used to doing or it can be the lady who steps into the crosswalk that you see, but your brain is occupied with something else, so it is just not processed.
Cognitive disengagement is just one type of distraction. It’s what makes talking on cell phones so dangerous. If your brain is switching back from your conversation and driving, there may be a moment when you really need it to be on driving. Along with the information not getting to your brain, you’re missing out on precious seconds to process the information and react. Seconds that could be the difference between safely stopping or rolling into an intersection in the way of oncoming traffic.
So I continue to be the task-master at home and in the office, but in the car I relax and concentrate on the most important task at hand – driving. Besides, I want to get home so my dog and I can take a jog while listening to an audiobook and cooking dinner in the oven.