Pittsburgh Legal Back Talk

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Mind over Clutter.

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | October 15, 2010

No. 519

I just finished participating in a CMU study called “Mind Muscle”, the purpose of which is to determine whether mental function can be improved in a measurable way by participation in games.  These were not just any games, of course.  They were specifically designed to help develop short term memory, hand-eye coordination and the like.

I think I did experience benefits from the program.  But the most important thing I learned was the value concentration. Contrary to the buzz about multitasking, neurological research indicates that the perception that the human mind can attend to two matters simultaneously is merely an illusion.  The brain can switch back and forth among two or more competing perceptions so rapidly that we believe we are attending to both in the same thought.  However, there is always something lost in in the switch — time.  Time to observe and react to each new perception.  Time to remember what came before.  Time to put two and two together. Cognition and memory run slower when they are forced to switch and switch back, over and over.

Did you ever marvel at the experience of “getting in the zone?” Its great!  Work gets done.  The best work gets done when you focus the most.

If you doubt that, try playing a computer game while someone engages you in a conversation.  Every time you change your focus from the game to the words, your mind drops the game and you lose time while you are picking it back up.  You hesitate while you remember where you were.  Time is lost. Then, with the next distraction, you do it again. Just see if you can come close to your best score when a single distraction intervenes.  Most likely you won’t do much better than half — and that for only  a momentary diversion. Imagine what your efficiency must be like in your usual environment rich in distractions.  That’s right — you customarily perform at only a small fraction of your best.

In addition, you must be well-rested.  No chance setting any scoring records when you are falling asleep. I found this to be true over and over.  Better to take a nap and come back refreshed. Or if you feel stiff and fatigued,  take a walk.

Deadlines help you focus amazingly.  The brief you haven’t been able to get started comes together like magic when there is little time left.  I have heard it reported many times that lawyers who switch from working long hours to quitting at five discover to their amazement that their earnings increase.  Why?  The daily deadline creates focus, which aids concentration, which produces more work.

Even after this phenomenon is explained, its still amazing.  So lets get focused and stop multitasking!



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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