Monday, September 18, 2006

Multi-tasking not what it's cracked up to be...

I've written about my dislike of multi-tasking before, here and here. Kevin at Bearskin Rug did a wonderful explanation of a uni-tasker and his world (with illustrations) called "My Cubbyhole Mind." It's well worth a visit.

I'm glad my life now allows me to do - one thing at a time.

Extracts from an article on multi-tasking in
Cubicle Culture
By Jared Sandberg for the Wall Street Journal, September 12, 2006

Multitasking [is] the wellspring of office gaffes, as well as the stock answer to how we do more with less when in fact we're usually doing less with more. What now passes for multitasking was once called not paying attention.

Employers continue to seek out jugglers despite decades of research showing that humans aren't great multitaskers. (And in the case of distracted driving, we're downright dangerous.)

"Multitasking doesn't look to be one of the great strengths of human cognition," says James C. Johnston, a research psychologist at NASA's Ames Research Center. "It's almost inevitable that each individual task will be slower and of lower quality."

In the lab, researchers call it "multitasking" when subjects can recognize, for example, the colors of dots while also discerning high and low tones ... not exactly the skill set you need to win a vice presidency.

Something else left out of the multitasking calculations -- beside the fact that we don't do it very well -- are "resumption costs." These are the seconds it takes your brain to say "Where was I?" when resuming an interrupted task. Depending on the tasks, those resumption costs can be high enough to make it faster to unitask, which researchers say produces better performance in the first place.

While multitaskers seem to be accomplishing a lot, they are in most cases literally just going through the motions. It is easy for our brain to schedule many different tasks, one after the other. And we'll gamely set out doing those tasks, some of which require little extra brain input and some of which require a lot. As a result, says Hal Pashler, director of the Attention and Perception Laboratory at the University of California, San Diego, "your mouth can be moving while your brain is elsewhere."

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At 4:16 PM, Anonymous alma said...

This is so true. Employers so value the ability to multitask, yet it seems every question asked on a conference call is followed by the reponse "Sorry, can you repeat that? I was multi-tasking..." (I am no exception.)

At 5:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently read an article which claimed that new research is showing that multitasking does not make a person more productive and that more is accomplished by focusing on one task at a time....just as our elementary teachers always told us. Susanlynn


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