Is It Time to Rethink Multitasking?

If you ask ten independent pros about multitasking, it’s likely that eight will provide an answer while watching a monitoring dashboard, responding to an email, scrolling through a news feed and drinking a cup of coffee or glass of wine! Multitasking has become the accepted new normal in an ever connected world, but is it really effective?

According to a number of studies, articles and experts like Clifford Nass, a psychology professor at Stanford University multitasking is not only ineffective but impossible. It’s said that when you multitask, it’s not a question of if you’ll make a mistake, but when.

This infographic, produced by a video conferencing company, takes it a step further by presenting the high cost of multitasking:

 

The High Cost of Multitasking

Infographic via Visual.ly
Are you guilty of multitasking? Have you noticed an impact? Share your thoughts in the comments!
  • heatherwhaling

    So timely for me! I am trying to be better about staying focused on one thing at a time. I started practicing mindfulness (using an app … ironic, I know!), and I’ve found it hugely helpful. I can concentrate better, which means I can work more efficiently and the work product is better, too.

  • Michelle Kane

    Recovering multitasker here. Emphasis on recovering (since as I write this comment I’m in the midst of checking email, sending a flyer to a client and oh, there’s someone at the door) – but seriously, I’m glad the pro-multitasking mindset is coming to the fore.

  • Wow, that’s a fascinating case study, Heather!

  • I think with all the disruptions we have today, everyone is in various stages of recovery (at all times!). I’ve noticed that the busier I am, the less multitasking I can actually tolerate before I forget what I set out to do. The section in the infographic on lowered IQ points really hit home for me. Crazy to think about.

  • See.. I am often praised for my ability to parallel process, to multi-task – which is also code for prioritizing. It’s not the you’re really doing 20 things simultaneously so much us.. concurrently? I mean, it’s not so taxing on the mind to have my dishwasher running, dinner cooking while I’m typing this comment. It’s a time and mental health saver to me, to walk on the treadmill while watching TV.

    Now a big project, something critical – of course we pair down and scale back. I don’t check email, I turn my ringer off, I’ve long since turned off most of the notifications and pings and alerts, I stay off social when I’m at crunch time. That single task – it may take me longer but at the same time I think that the stop/start of my brain maybe takes me in different, better directions that result in a better product than if I’d tunnel-visioned it? IDK the stress of it, the fear of missing out – that’s all on us and how we internalize I think. End of the day, everyone works differently and what works for everyone will be different. FWIW.

  • Great points, Davina. Perhaps some of it depends on the definition of multitasking. I think there’s a difference between having multiple things “going” at once (e.g., the dishwasher) and trying to actively engage in more than one thing at a time (for example, participating in a conference call while responding to email). We’ve all done it, but we’ve all probably also gotten caught by that “what do you think, Kellye?” moment (when we realize we have no idea what they were talking about- ugh).

    But, as you say, there are likely as many different ways to think and work as there are people. The key is to pay attention to whether we’re actually as productive as we think we are when trying to shove more stuff into our day.

  • KensViews

    Despite many PR pros’ claim that multi-tasking works, neuro-scientists, again and again, remind us that it doesn’t. Even though we have technology that’s wired to allow us to multi-task, our main computer–our brains–aren’t wired to do so! That’s partially because of the large amount of time our brains need to “recover” from interruptions. We’d all benefit from uni-tasking. Give an important task your undivided attention–no pings, no texts, no phone calls–for 15-to-20 minutes. Then go onto the next high priority task, and then the next. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish in an hour, a morning, and a day using this method.

  • I love the idea of “uni-tasking” – a novel concept! J

  • You don’t even mention television. Old fashioned, yes, but a
    potential problem for those of us who work at home.

    I watch amazingly little TV and when I do watch it tends to
    be while I am having lunch alone.

    When the TV is on, I’m either watching or I’m not. But I’m
    seldom doing 2 things at once.

    When I was a kid, I did much of my homework in front of the TV.
    It prolonged the agony.

    -d