Here are 3 facts I’ll remember about multitasking after reading some articles dealing with the subject:
- Multitasking is a drug which affects your memory and your ability to link elements!
- Fighting multitasking is a very good way to improve productivity.
- Trying to fully eliminate multitasking is risking lowering your capabilities.
But let met tell you more about each of them.
Multitasking is a drug which affects your memory and your ability to link elements!
Like any drug, multitasking brings you instant wellness and comfort. Like any drug, multitasking in excess is harmful and dangerous for health.
Why people are multitasking? Mostly because it feels good. And it feels good for two main reasons: a personal matter and a social matter.
Personally, multitasking brings you the impression that you are achieving more things and gives you the feeling that you are good at it. More over, media multitasking - like watching TV in background while you are currently reading a lesson - can bring a dose of entertainment that will improve feelings you have about the main task.
There is also a social pressure about multitasking. Since late 1990s, the total amount of information to deal with has been exponentially increasing. Multitasking appeared as a key skill on resumés. High technology devices are designed for people to increase their ability to multitask. Therefore, advertisement sings the praises of multitasking. A new form of hero has born: Super Overachiever!
May you feel good when multitasking, excess of multitasking has several consequences: long-term memory problems, abilities to filter irrelevant information and to handle analytic reasoning are affected as well. After a while, your ability to switch between tasks decreases and you may multitask more and more to compensate for your loss of productivity. This is a sure way to burnout.
Fighting multitasking is a very good way to improve productivity.
Switching between tasks has a cost, do not underestimate it. Very often, people who multitask a lot are convinced that they are able to switch from one task to another very fast. They are wrong.
Multitasking increases the loss of capacity to filter irrelevant information. Therefore, it increases the time you need to solve problems you are working on.
Multitasking affects your long-term memory and, consequently, impairs your learning.
Fighting multitasking is therefore a need, in the same meaning that you need to quit smoking or to drink less. It is healthy and safe. It can bring you:
- more time to do things (by reducing task switch costs) ;
- a better long-term memory ;
- a better focus on what you are doing ;
- the ability to sort out useless pieces of data ;
- more discipline and a better organization.
Moreover, trying to find ways to reduce multitasking can lead you to new practices, not directly linked to multitasking. I was reading an article from Leo Widrich, co-founder of the company who made Buffer. When trying to fight multitasking, we discovered that reviewing his tasks for the next day with his coworker helped him to get the work done easier.
Trying to fully eliminate multitasking is risking lowering your capabilities.
Multitasking is a part of your everyday life. Brain is able to process many information at the same time. Brain is able to instantly and constantly coordinate your muscles, your breathe, your digestion, your balance, and many more.
Doing several activities at the same time, is it really multitasking? For example, I play golf. Just before hitting the ball, I have to:
- estimate the distance between the ball and the pin ;
- understand if the hole is higher or lower than the ball ;
- evaluate the speed of the wind ;
- feel if my body as a lot of adrenaline or has a low level of energy ;
- align my body and my club to the direction of the hole ;
- coordinate my moves to hit the ball properly ;
- and finally, to watch the ball going into the forest near the green :-)
But do I multitask when I play golf? Maybe I just play golf and this is a single task with several subtasks that the brain can execute very easily at the same time. Maybe it does require a bit of training, but it can do it easily after.
Switching between tasks has a cost, do not underestimate it but… do not overestimate it! Training your multitasking can help your brain to switch faster, to perform some subtasks automatically, and with few efforts.
If the task switch cost is less than the waiting time inside your current task (waiting for an email to be sent or to arrive in your mailbox, waiting for a page to load or for a coworker to answer you), then yes, go on, multitask!
I’ll finish with this phrase from Clifford Nass, professor at Stanford University, who says :
Are people born multitaskers, or are they made multitaskers?
Now, if they’re born multitaskers, we can say to them, “You know, you shouldn’t multitask because you’re going to be bad at it.” But if they’re made multitaskers, and we’re in a world where multitasking is being pushed on more and more people, we could be essentially undermining the thinking ability of our society…
I do believe that we do not fully use the whole capability of our brains. And I do strongly hope that we will improve and, why not, will be able to multitask better and better.
So, please, do not try to fully eliminate multitasking. Keep breathing while you are reading this, at least. :-P