Stop Multitasking: it Makes you Dumber (and 4 Ways to Improve)

Productivity for leaders demands wise time management. But will multi-tasking make us better time managers? This study says no. A study done at the University of London found that constant emailing and text-messaging reduces mental capability by an average of ten points on an IQ test. It was five points for women, and fifteen points for men. This effect is similar to missing a night’s sleep. For men, it’s around three times more than the effect of smoking cannabis. While this fact might make an interesting dinner party topic, it’s really not that amusing that one of the most common “productivity tools” can make one as dumb as a stoner. (David Rock, Your Brain at Work, p. 36) If you get sucked into multitasking, consider these 4 ways to fight against the tendency.

close up hands multitasking man using  laptop  connecting wifi

Many leaders, including me, have too often convinced themselves that multi-tasking leads to better time management. Actually, it doesn’t. Researchers have shown that when we try to do two mental tasks at once, our cognitive capacity can drop from that of a Harvard MBA to that of an eight year old (Rock, p. 34).

Although we technically can do two tasks at once, it dramatically slows our mental processing. So, if you think you are saving time by multi-tasking, you really aren’t. Neuroscientists call this dual-task interference. Because the high level thinking part of our brain (the pre-frontal cortex) works in a serial fashion, one item at a time, when we multi-task we clog up its processing speed and actually reduce our effectiveness.

Linda Stone, a former VP at Microsoft captured the essence in the term continuous partial attention. She describes it this way. “To pay continuous partial attention is to keep a top-level item in focus, and constantly scan the periphery in case something more important emerges.” As a result, this “always on” mode puts our brains on constant alert, thus flooding them with too much stress hormone which slows processing.

So what can we do to moderate this tendency?

  1. Imbed repetitive tasks deep into our long term memory so we that we can actually do them without thinking. An example is driving. We don’t really think about driving because we’ve done it long enough to make it a habit. Such habits don’t require the executive functions of our brains. Rather, they are stored into the part of our brain that stores routine functions, the basal ganglia.
  2. Prioritize your tasks for the day. Every day take a few minutes to plan your day so that you do the most mentally taxing things first. This appointment with the executive center of our brains assures we do our best thinking for what demands it.
  3. Turn off notifications on your computer or mobile device. I thought in my iPad and iPhone all I had to do was to keep an app out of Notifications. I just realized that I have to go into settings and turn off notifications in each app. When I read, I hated getting the reminders at the top of the screen which interrupted my train of thought. I no longer get them.
  4. Determine when you will attend to those tasks that interrupted you. When I write or study, I turn off email. But every hour or so when I take a break, I will turn it on and quickly look at email and respond to those that I can in the moment. That way I can focus on that which requires my mental energy and check off those less demanding tasks at those scheduled times .

How do you handle the multi-tasking monster?

My latest book, Brain-Savvy Leaders: the Science of Significant Ministry, provides practical insight from brain insight on many areas of leadership.

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6 Neuroscience Insights that can Make a Pastor’s Sermons Stickier

I received a master’s degree in the neuroscience of leadership last year and had a blast.  Christian leaders and pastors can learn much from the latest neuroscience discoveries about the brain. Neuroscientists have discovered that the brain profoundly  impacts leadership, emotional regulation, motivating others, navigating change, team building, and effective communication. If you spend much time preaching or teaching, you’ll find these 6 ideas helpful for your sermons.


All pastors want themselves and others to become more like Jesus. For that to happen, thinking, behavior, and habits must change. Those changes don’t occur in a void. Rather, God takes what we learn about the bible, character, and God honoring behavior to transform us. A major input to this new way of living comes through preaching and teaching.

But for lasting change to occur, our brains must imbed new information into our long-term memory instead of our short-term memory. Think of the difference between cramming for a test in geography the night before the test (we soon forget the facts) and learning a new language (if we continue to use it, the language gets imbedded deep within our memories). Neuroscientists call this embedding process consolidation. The name itself pictures the process. Although initial information comes into our minds through our five senses, it passes through a part of the brain called the hippocampus. However, if we want the new information (i.e. our sermons) to stick, the memories must be spread to other parts of the brain to consolidate them into long term memory.

So if you want to increase the chance that life transformation happens through your preaching and teaching, consider these practical steps to help imbed your teaching into long term memory thus making your sermons more “sticky.”

  1. Increase focused attention by engaging more senses than just sight and sound. Creatively use taste, smell and touch. When people pay more attention to your sermons, they engage the hippocampus more. And unless it is engaged, people won’t remember what you say.
  2. Deliver your sermon in an organized way. Use a visual metaphor or picture at the beginning to tie the talk together. This is called pre-encoding which organizes the brain to remember better. If you deliver your sermon in a random way, however, memory decreases.
  3. Break up the message into two parts and place a different element between each (ie. video or music). In the second part creatively review the content you presented in the first part. The following week again review the previous week’s main points. Neuroscientists have discovered that spacing between learning something and practicing it increases memory retention.
  4. Use a power point flashcard at the end of the talk by asking the people to fill in the blanks of your sermon’s key points. When someone self-generates information it sticks much better than when they are simply told information.
  5. Ask the people to personally apply one aspect of the message to their own lives. This concept called self-relevant processing deepens memory more than almost anything else. It relates to helping them emotionally connect to what you want them to learn. Emotional stamping is a powerful memory enhancer.
  6. Ask the people to imagine themselves not only doing the application but also to imagine the context (where) in which they will do it. Again, neuroscience has discovered that people recall memories better when they imagine the context in which they learned or practiced something new.

Run the upcoming bible study or sermon you plan to give through this grid and see what improvements you can make to make your talk more sticky.

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4 Insights about Leadership I Learned from a Bunch of Creatives

I’m a writer and a pastor. To improve my writing and book marketing skills, I joined a coaching group led by one of the smartest book marketing dudes anywhere, Chadwick Cannon. This past weekend I attended an intense 1-day session on book marketing in Nashville, Tennessee. It was an amazing day with eight bright and talented creatives. Our focus was not on leadership. Nevertheless, I came away not only with a head full of ideas on book marketing but a few insights on leadership as well.

Multi-Ethnic Group of People Planning Ideas

4 leadership insights I learned from creatives:

  1. Good leaders must learn from those outside the ‘leadership’ field.
    • I was the only pastor in the group although one guy was a former pastor. Our group included a wide range of people: one woman was called to serve the homeless, another had owned an art gallery, one was facing terminal cancer, another was in accounting, one had a special needs child with a rare disease, etc., etc. This eclectic group reminded me that God has given us all certain life experiences for His glory and our benefit. I learned insights from each of these incredible people that I took away to apply in my role as a pastor.
  2. Leaders must avoid getting ‘leadership tunnel vision’ (a close cousin to number 1 above)
    • Leadership tunnel vision happens when we only expose ourselves to leadership ‘stuff.’ We read leadership books, go to leadership conferences, and mostly keep our minds in the leadership ‘headspace.’ This weekend took me out of a formal leadership ‘headspace.’ As I heard their stories and learned how to sell books, it reminded me how easily I can slip into leadership tunnel vision and that I must periodically step out of that space to learn fresh ideas.
  3. Creatives provide great examples of self-leadership.
    • Writing is a lonely business. For an author to have written a book means that she has disciplined herself to say no to other time demands so that she can focus on writing. It takes great self-leadership to say yes to the solitude writing requires. Good leaders can’t lead churches or businesses or ministries without leading themselves. A productive creative understands self-leadership.
  4. Feedback from creatives provides a helpful window to help leaders lead better.
    • As part of our session together, we shared our book marketing plans, book benefit statements, and our tag-lines for our books. After we presented, the group gave feedback. The feedback they gave me was invaluable. Their creative perspectives gave me a fresh evaluative window that I seldom get. ‘Leadership tunnel vision’ can sometimes inadvertently exclude input we need to hear from those not in the leadership space. I came away tired, but full not only of marketing ideas, but challenged to be a better leader through their unique feedback.

If you’re a leader, consider this suggestion. Get to know some creatives in or outside your church or ministry. Spend time learning about what they do and how they do it. Ask them about what it’s like being a painter or a sculptor or a musician or a writer. You’ll probably come away with some new insight about how you can be a better leader that you probably won’t get from other leaders.

Who is a creative in your circle of relationships that you could learn from?

Mr. Rogers’ Advice to Discouraged Pastors

Do the Best You Can and Leave the Results to God… That phrase may seem trite and a bit worn to discouraged pastors, but it’s filled with truth. In Christ’s parable of the talents, the master, representing God, gave responsibility to the servants, us, based on individual ability.[1] The story implies that some pastors have greater competencies and gifts than others. Similarly, Paul teaches that the Holy Spirit gives out gifts as He sees fit.[2] It’s obvious that the Spirit gives some pastors extra preaching or leading gifts, evidenced in the size and impact of their ministries. And when we don’t measure up or our church is not growing and we face discouragement, what can we do?

do your best words on post-it over brown background

It’s easy to become discouraged when we do our best yet don’t see our church grow like others against which we or others may compare ourselves. When we wrap our identities around numerical results and the numbers don’t increase, the discouragement can overwhelm. This is especially true for older pastors who realize they may never achieve the dreams they had for ministry.

Author David Goetz wrote,

I often sat in the studies of both small-church pastors and mega-church pastors, listening to their stories, their hopes, their plans for significance. I deduced, albeit unscientifically, that often clergymen in midlife had worse crises of limits than did other professionals. Religious professionals went into the ministry for the significance, to make an impact, called by God to make a difference with their lives. But when you’re fifty-three and serving a congregation of 250, you know, finally, you’ll never achieve the large-church immortality symbol, the glory that was promised to you. That can be a dark moment—or a dark couple of years.[3]

In contrast to these struggles, the late theologian Fred Rogers (of Mr. Rogers fame) recalled an experience he had when attending seminary. He wanted to hear a variety of preachers, so for a time each Sunday he visited different churches. One week he experienced “the most poorly crafted sermon [he] had ever heard.” A friend had accompanied him and when he turned to her, he found her in tears. She said, “It was exactly what I needed to hear.”

Rogers then told his audience, “That’s when I realized that the space between someone doing the best he or she can and someone in need is holy ground. The Holy Spirit had transformed that feeble sermon for her—and as it turned out, for me too.”[4]

Although the results from our best efforts may look feeble to some, they can touch a heart and change a life when we least expect it. This side of heaven we will never know the people we impacted through our faithful service.

Don’t give up our give in to discouragement. God is still at work.

What has helped you deal with discouragement?

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Adapted with permission from the book by Charles Stone, 5 Ministry Killers and How to Defeat Them.

[1] Matthew 25

[2] 1 Corinthians 12

[3] David L. Goetz, Death by Suburb (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), 43.

[4] In Victor Parachin, “8 Ways to Encourage Your Pastor,” Today’s Christian, Sept/Oct. 1999.

iPad Preaching with a Virtual Whiteboard, what I Learned

In my teaching on Sunday mornings in my church I occasional use a tool that turns my iPad into a virtual whiteboard. I use an app called Airsketch which allows me to connect my iPad to our church’s local wi-fi network which in turn allows the computer which drives our projector to put the image of my iPad on the screen. It’s a nifty technique and I’ve learned a few insights from its use.


As an example, some time back I taught on spiritual warfare. I was able to underline, draw, and write words on my iPad just as if I had used an actual whiteboard. Here’s a picture of one of the screen shots. Everything in red I added while I taught. The icons at the bottom don’t show up on screen, but are available to you as the presenter.

When I first used this tool, I used it two weeks in a row. The first week I included my prompts on screen. The second week, I pared down what appeared on screen and used printed notes to the side to prompt me. In later uses I evan pared down what I put on-screen to help me remember what went next and to lessen busy-ness on screen.

Overall, I got lots of positive comments. Here’s what I learned.

  • This tool definitely kept the listeners’ attention better.
  • It added a ‘cool’ factor to my message.
  • It helped me visually emphasize words or phrases in the text which in turn left a stronger impression in the listener’s mind.
  • I was able to face the congregation at all times. Using an actual whiteboard prohibits that as I have to turn to write on the board.
  • I was easily able to switch back and forth to different iPad screens to review and further emphasize points.
  • Less text on the screen is better. Too much becomes too busy.
  • Using a stylus is better than using your finger. A few months ago I bought an iPad pro and the Apple pencil. It works fantastic.
  • I had to experiment to get the text size large enough for the projection on the screen to be readable by the congregation.

I definitely won’t use this tool every week because because any technique loses it’s effectiveness with overuse. But, I’ve now put Airsketch into my presenter’s tool box. If you use an iPad, I encourage you to give it a try.

A final note: Pro-presenter also has an iPad app but it’s very sluggish. Airsketch, however, has very little lag time.

If you’ve used Airsketch, how has it worked for you?

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