Jul 302013

In our fast-paced, electronic-driven society, our minds race from idea to idea, our eyes flit between computer screen, cellphone and tablet.  Nearly every active person, teenager through adult, feels the pressure to pay attention to more than one thing at a time — to multitask.  Performing multiple things at a time has become the skill to master in the 21st century.

But does multitasking even exist?

From the 1990’s to the present, research has questioned whether the human brain can perform more than one task at a time, whether it is possible to learn new material while engaging in multiple mental activities simultaneously.  Cutting edge scientific studies indicate that the brain cannot perform multiple tasks simultaneously, even with extensive training.

So what really happens when we try to multitask?

Current theories on cognition (the basis for executive functioning) support the idea that our brains are constantly switching, pausing and refocusing continuously as we move from task to task.  In reality we don’t pay attention to two or more things simultaneously but switch between them rapidly.

Are we gaining anything from this rapid mental activity?

Studies show that switching from task to task in the attempt to multitask results in far greater errors.  On top of that, research has proven that this switching takes far longer — sometimes twice as long– as compared to working on tasks sequentially.

Do we lose anything from trying to multitask?

Consider one mental activity that is linked to multitasking:  continuous partial attention, a process that involves skimming the surface of data and picking out relevant information before moving to the next idea.  When you engage in continuous partial attention, you study information at a superficial level.  By continuously shifting and refocusing your attention, you become accustomed to skimming but not studying anything in detail.

The drive to do more than one mental activity at a time seems to reduce our ability to focus and complete tasks thoroughly, as well as making it take longer.  By trying to do more than one task at a time, we actually impair our cognitive ability to maintain focus.

So why try to do more than one thing at a time and end up not doing anything well?


Check back next week for more thoughts on executive function skills, speech and communications.





Jul 012013

As a speech pathologist I work on improving executive function skills with individuals who have difficulty in organization and focus. With many of my clients who feel they are never on top of the tasks they must complete, I often advise making a “To Do” list, along with other organizational strategies.  Writing a concrete set of goals for a given time period (a week, a day, etc.), generally helps people stay on task and not lose sight of what they must accomplish.  However, along with creating a list like this, the process of prioritizing remains critically important.  This is where many people veer into trouble: the “To Do” list that becomes an even bigger headache.

What does it mean to prioritize?  If you feel overwhelmed by what you need to do for work, family or your personal life, creating a list of what must be accomplished remains one of the best strategies to ensure that you’re productive.  But prioritizing is more than just deciding what should be done and in what order; prioritizing requires time management, a skill that often causes difficulty all by itself.

Overplanning, by not considering what can be accomplished in a given time period, can sabotage anyone’s efforts to become organized and productive.   Writing an unrealistic list of items often becomes one of the most self-defeating activities for someone with executive function problems.  If the “To Do” list becomes a set of dream goals, not realistically attainable, you set in motion an even worse spiral of not getting anything done.

How to deal with this?  I advise long-range and short-range planning: deciding what must be done each day and making that list a “do-able list,” not an impossible dream.  As you take care of it, scratch it off, or if it carries over, put it on the next day’s agenda.  Group these tasks into a realistic time frame: today, tomorrow, next week, or even the month.  If you have long-range goals, leave room in the daily or weekly agenda and slot in time periods to begin working on these longer projects.  But consider how long tasks should take so you don’t push off long projects and end up frantically working on them at the last minute.

I am often asked, “Will this help me multi-task?”  Creating a realistic “To Do” list by prioritizing, setting attainable goals and considering your available time, can make you more efficient and perhaps bring you closer to the 21st century dream of multi-tasking.  Whether or not multi-tasking is attainable or a desirable skill remains a large question, one that I’ll be writing about in the future.


Check back next week for more thoughts on executive function skills, communciations and speech.






May 152013

Everyone has moments of inattention and restlessness, but for some people these exist as a constant situation.  Adults, as well as children and adolsecents, need to monitor their behavior and cue themselves to pay attention, but some people have significantly more difficulty maintaining their focus.

Executive functioning represents a set of processes that govern how one manages oneself, including mental control and self regulation.  The skills necessary for planning and organization, memory, making transitions, setting priorities, and  self cueing begin to develop in childhood.  As the child grows, so do the expectations for self management throughout the teenage years.  Adults are expected to have mastered a degree of mental flexibility, including the ability to set priorities and shift strategies.  But adults who remain disorganized, poorly focused, unaware of how much they miss in the environment, often suffer professionally and personally.

Can individuals who have difficulty with executive functioning become more alert to their behavior and improve these  skills?  Self-monitoring strategies and cueing for attentional gaps can be learned by children and adults.   Luckily, for teenagers and adults, electronic devices and planners can assist in memory and organization.  But these external tools don’t help with focus and attention. While some individuals treat their attentional problems with medication, ultimately the responsibility for executive functioning remains a conscious activity.

A professional who specializes in cognitive training can develop a set of strategies tailored to an individual to improve executive functioning.  It takes active thinking to modify one behavior at all ages.  But it’s a worthwhile effort that can create academic, professional and personal success.


Check back next week for more thoughts on communications and speech.

Jun 102012

From Business News: Author Helps Clients with Communication Skills, by Linda Viertel

Most commonly, traditional speech-language pathology support can help young children with developmental speech issues such as stuttering, pronunciation, word-processing and receptive language skills. But, this vocation can help high school aged children as well as adults who need communications, writing and organization skills improvement. Speech-language pathologist, former college writing instructor and published author, Gloria S. Lazar (M.S., M.Phil., and CCC – Certificate of Clinical Competence) provides a wide range of therapeutic services and support for individuals in need.

Lazar’s graduate school clinical studies, in addition to her role as a teacher working with reading specialists, has given her an untraditional multi-faceted approach to the support she provides her young clients. She considers herself a “caring practitioner,” who “loves working with people and making a difference in their lives.”

Read the rest of the article here (pdf)