Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Multitasking is a Myth (see, I told you so)

Yup, it is February 1. The first month of 2011 is gone, gone, gone. It is time to observe the behavior of groundhogs, shop for valentines, and evaluate progress on my New Year's Resolution. But not all at the same time. Because, remember, I am focusing on one thing at a time.

And you know what?  There is actually a lot of research backing me up on this. Thank you Kelly Diels for taking my side in that no nonsense but provocotive way of yours (even though you took in 2009 and I only came to my single-tasking conclusions a month ago). Citing a 2007 article from the New York Times, Kelly says multi-tasking is just not very productive.
"[It] fragments our attention and stalls the momentum necessary for deep thinking. We’re not doing more with less; we’re doing more and achieving less – and, as evidenced by our jam-packed schedules and work hour ‘creep’, we’re taking longer to do it."
Then, just last week, Matthew Casey chimed in with the observation,
"However, though multitaskers may work on many things at once, research has shown that they don’t do any of them particularly well.
The term “multitasking” was originally coined to describe a computer’s ability to complete several simultaneous functions. Humans may have invented computers, but that doesn’t mean we can compete with them.
Though most of us can successfully walk and chew gum, planning an annual budget while reading the sports page, participating in a conference call, writing a text message and looking for a lost pig in Farmville isn’t really feasible."
 So when I said "I'm pretty sure multi-tasking is just a myth;  the human brain can only actually do one thing at a time and all that shifting around keeps the mind from fully engaging in the task at hand. And that leads to unfinished or semi-crappy products," I wasn't just making stuff up. I thought I might be, but I wasn't. In fact, there's a book about it! I love it when I'm right.

There is such a thing as switch-tasking, switching rapidly between one task and another. There is also background tasking, in which you might listen to music while performing another mundane activity - nothing mentally taxing.*  

Multi-tasking is a myth. Really, all you are doing is interrupting yourself and you are probably doing it all. day. long. So cut it out! Show yourself some respect.  Pay attention, your whole attention, to the things you think are important.

And, yeah, I'm being a little smug here. I'm okay with that.  All this research affirming my single-tasking choice is adding some nice fuel to my fire.  I think we can all agree that New Year's Resolutions need every bit of fuel they can get.

*Definitions used (maybe created) by Dave Crenshaw

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