Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Myth of Multitasking



I have not doubt covered this topic before in my postings but I have come across a swag of new articles that further confirm the fact that human beings are not designed to multi task. When we fool ourselves into believing we are multi tasking we are in fact simply task switching. As “Slow Down, Brave Multitasker, and Don’t Read This in Traffic” details:

“The researchers said that they did not see a delay if the participants were given the tasks one at a time. But the researchers found that response to the second task was delayed by up to a second when the study participants were given the two tasks at about the same time.

In many daily tasks, of course, a lost second is unimportant. But one implication of the Vanderbilt research, Mr. Marois said, is that talking on a cellphone while driving a car is dangerous. A one-second delay in response time at 60 miles an hour could be fatal, he noted.”

In “Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work” we find out how interruptions can be just as bad:

“We’ve already seen that multitasking on the road is the equivalent of drinking and driving. Other research cited by Medina shows that people who are interrupted - and therefore have to switch their attention back and forth - take 50% longer to accomplish a task, and make up to 50% more errors.”

Now translate that to the technology you are probably using now, such as email, and you may begin to appreciate why you are struggling to actually get any meaningful work done. By having your emails constantly open and allowing pop up notifications you are reducing the time you have because you are simply task switching (which requires recovery to refocus) and you are more likely to make mistakes. Tell me how that is being more productive?

The most amazing thing is that as a society we seem to believe that we all not only have the ability to multi task but that we should be doing it more often. We hold in high esteem those who appear to be good multi taskers, when in actual fact we are revering the most unproductive and error prone among us. How does that make sense? There is even a belief that kids of today are just natural multi taskers, but again as “Slow Down, Brave Multitasker, and Don’t Read This in Traffic” details:

“Recently completed research at the Institute for the Future of the Mind at Oxford University suggests the popular perception is open to question. A group of 18- to 21-year-olds and a group of 35- to 39-year-olds were given 90 seconds to translate images into numbers, using a simple code.

The younger group did 10 percent better when not interrupted. But when both groups were interrupted by a phone call, a cellphone short-text message or an instant message, the older group matched the younger group in speed and accuracy.”

So again we can see that most of our ideas about multi tasking are simply myths yet remain largely unchallenged.

Finally, here’s an article “Getting Things Done: How NOT to Multitask – Work Simpler and Saner” with some suggestion about how to avoid the traps of multi tasking and develop an environment where you can actually achieve some meaningful work.

For more information about getting assistance improving your productivity please visit our Smart Productivity site.