Multitasking Is A Mistake

photo by Sorosh
photo by Sorosh

Multitasking is a waste of your talent, time and energy. Beginning in the 80’s the idea of multitasking became the rage. If you couldn’t multitask you were probably not worthy of a job, promotion or respect.

With today’s technology it seems people are more compelled than ever to multitask in ways they would have never dreamed. They have a blue tooth in their ear while reading an e-mail on their blackberry and an map app open on their iTouch. They do all this while at a table eating lunch with you.

They may be doing a number of things but are they doing anything well? A recent study reveals that in fact multitasking may not be as “efficient” as we think.

In a study conducted by three professors at Stanford, they found:

“People who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.”

Beginning the study there was an assumption that a person good a multitasking has some desirable abilities and the team set out determine what they were. What they found was the fact that high multitaskers were overwhelmed by information and so focused on trying to take it all in that they couldn’t complete simple tasks properly.

Multitasking masters were compared to mild or non-multitaskers in an experiment to discover which could group could focus on specific information.

Each group was asked to look at two quick screens of blue and red rectangles. They were to filter out the blue and decide if the position of the red rectangles was different in the second screen.

The non-multitaskers performed much better.

In test of memory, the multitaskers also performed poorly. Each group was shown a series of letters then later asked to recall which letters were repeated. The non-mulitaskers won again.

Since the multitaskers couldn’t filter data with the rectangles or remember data with the letters; the researchers then checked to see if the multitaskers were better at switching from one task to another.

Subjects were show a series of letters and numbers. They were asked to identify if the numbers were even or odd and if the letters were vowels or consonants. Again the multitaskers failed to perform better.

The researchers concluded basically that multitaskers are too busy trying to take in all the information possible to effectively achieve desired results. What remains unclear is whether this inability is a learned behaviour or an inherent trait.

It’s good to see conclusive evidence that supports the concepts of living a lean life. Eliminating the incidental and wasteful activities from ones life will leave you more capable of completing the task at hand.

While not as fun, the study from Standford is much more comprehensive than study I found reference in the blog of Tim Ferris, author of the 4 Hour Workweek.

“In 2005, a psychiatrist at King’s College in London administered IQ tests to three groups: the first did nothing but perform the IQ test, the second was distracted by e-mail and ringing phones, and the third was stoned on marijuana. Not surprisingly, the first group did better than the other two by an average of 10 points. The e-mailers, on the other hand, did worse than the stoners by an average of 6 points.”

What does this mean to you? While you may perceive that you get more done or are more efficient when you multitask, you are probably fooling yourself. While it may be frustrating to wait for a web page or application to load, you may be more productive with patience, waiting for it to load and accomplishing your task with a singular focus. Once complete a single task you should go on to the next. Performing tasks one at a time you will likely accomplish more over time, with higher quality.

Plus if you get it all out of the way, you will then have plenty of time to sit back with a doobie! 🙂

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