Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Trouble with Multi=Tasking

What a relief it was to read about this Stanford University study which found that heavy duty multi-taskers are not, in fact, super-human concentrators with the ability to polish off multiple projects simultaneously and flawlessly. Instead, researchers found that those who regularly juggle several sources of media at once were less successful at assigned tasks than people who usually do one thing at a time.

As someone who has trouble reading a book and listening to music at the same time - unless the music is instrumental only and coincides historically and mood-wise with what I'm reading, I have always been suspicious of multi-taskers. Are their powers of mental focus so superior to mine? How do they keep it up? Something's got to give. It turns out that the "something" is the ability to ignore irrelevant information.

"They're suckers for irrelevancy," said Stanford professor Clifford Nass, one of the lead researchers for the study. That inability to filter out what is immaterial to a task naturally decreases accuracy and delays the completion of that task.

Of course, this is not a big surprise to anyone who has ever been behind a multi-tasker in a check-out line. Trying to swipe a debit card, punch in a PIN and carry on a cell phone conversation at the same time inevitably leads to delays, not only for the multi-tasker but for everyone else in the line as well.

Other skills found lacking in multi-taskers were the ability to organize memory and the ability to switch from one task to another.

"They couldn't help thinking about the task they weren't doing," said Eyal Ophir, lead author of the study. "They can't keep things separate in their minds."

So I feel somewhat vindicated in my affinity for uni-tasking. I won't be pressured into a feeling of inadequacy when I'm happily engrossed in a single activity. I don't need to see how many balls I can keep in the air. I'm happy juggling one at a time.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

Very true. Focusing on one thing at a time only, meaning cut out all distractions from anything else for a set amount of time, coupled with bringing a great energy to the task at hand, will give you results of increased productivity, a better result from attention to detail, and increased success, as well as saving loads of time for leasure.