Unfocused multitasking makes you less productive and dumb

Beyond IQ: Focus on the Task at Hand, "Attention span and reasoning" may get higher marks than intelligence...
© Jorge Delgado/iStockphoto
© Jorge Delgado/iStockphoto

Inhibitory control is the ability to halt automatic impulses and focus on the problem at hand. For example, people use inhibitory control when they decide to take different routes to their jobs, because they have to make a conscious effort to override the regular route they otherwise would almost automatically follow.

Children with good inhibitory control are able, in essence, to multitask, or use known solution strategies in new ways. In this study 141 healthy children between the ages of three and five years took a battery of psychological tests that measured their IQs and executive functioning. Researchers found that a child IQ and executive functioning were both above average was three times more likely to succeed in math than a kid who simply had a high IQ.

"[The fact] that executive function, even in children this young, is significantly related to early math performance suggests that if we can improve executive function, we can improve their academic performance," says Adele Diamond, professor of developmental cognitive neuroscience at the University of British Columbia.
The key to successful "multitasking" and executive functioning at any age is to "tune" out multiple distractions and "self regulate" or focus on the task at hand. 
"When people divide their attention, they react more slowly and make more mistakes, scientists say."  New York Times beats the whole "multi-tasking reduces productivity" horse to death,  citing that studies show young people are not better equipped to handle interruptions having grown up with digital distractions.... jumping every time their phone buzzes or a new message appears in their inbox, straying off to reply to messages or browse news, sports or entertainment Web sites.  Based on surveys and interviews with professionals and office workers, concluded that 28 percent of their time was spent on what they deemed interruptions and recovery time before they returned to their main tasks... estimating the cost of interruptions to the American economy at nearly $650 billion a year.