Monday, April 15, 2013

The fallacy of multitasking

It's really "task-switching" - the brain cannot multitask

Multitasking continues to be regarded as a required and prized skill because the idea that the brain can focus on more than one task at a time still prevails among students, employees, and employers in various settings and workplaces. However, modern neuroscience and numerous studies have shown multitasking is a fallacy. Although we can walk, talk, and breathe at the same time, the brain can focus attention on one higher-level task at a time.

When we think we're multitasking, we are in fact task-switching - i.e., interrupting our attention from one task to pay attention to another. Driving while talking on the phone is one example. While "multitasking" may be a requirement of managing our responsibilities at home, on campus, and in the workplace, interruptions and
task-switching compromise results and efficiency. Research shows there's a 50% increase in error rate, and it takes twice as long to finish tasks. In the workplace, the result is higher costs, inferior results, and more stress.
To reduce time and improve efficiency, whenever possible, focus on and complete one task at a time. As we often don't have that luxury, manage the interruptions and your time in a way that best allows you to focus effectively on one task before switching to another. Consider tracking the number and degree of distractions and interruptions occurring between tasks. Heightened awareness will contribute to enhanced time management strategies and improved results. A record of interruptions and distractions may also help to inform conversations as well as improve conditions and efficiency in the workplace.

On the roadways, driving while talking - like drinking and driving - yields tragic consequences.