It’s hard successfully writing a blog post on multitasking while I’m lying on couch eating and watching Two Broke Girls on TV, while my sister is showing me Instagram posts and my Mum is yelling at me to clean my room. I have around 15 tabs opened on my laptop, including my WordPress blog, my email, Tumblr, Facebook, Moodle, and my lecture slides.
Before researching multitasking for BCM240, I considered myself as a multitasker, and thought I was capable of doing many things at once. But is it multitasking if I’m not actually completing any tasks? Or is multitasking actually a form of procrastination?
Multitasking vs. Procrastination
After a bit of research I discovered that when you “multitask”, your brain is actually switching rapidly between handling one task and then another. Although you’re not physically delaying or postponing something (procrastinating), you’re not focusing your full attention on either task at hand.
What are the downfalls?
Scientist John Medina in his book Brain Rules, concludes that multitaskers experience a massive 40% drop in productivity. They also take 50% longer to accomplish a single task and make up to 50% more errors than workers who focus on a single task at a time.
Multitasking isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be. Although its okay to multitask in some aspects of life (like singing in the shower,) multitasking at work or during study definitely affects your concentration and decreases your productivity.
David Strayer, director of the applied cognition lab at the University of Utah, studies multitasking and distracted driving. From his studies he concluded that “ninety-eight percent of people can’t multitask—they don’t do either task as well.”
In a study published in the journal Computers & Education, research subjects were asked to attend a university-level lecture and then complete a multiple-choice quiz based on what they learned to discover the extent which multitasking hindered their learning.
In the experiment, all the participants used laptops to take notes during the lecture, but half were also asked to complete a series of unrelated tasks on their computers. The tasks, included online searches for information — and were meant to mimic what distracted students might do during class.
McMaster University researcher Faria Sana, who co-authored the study commented, “We really tried to make it pretty close to what actually happens in the lectures, we found that lo and behold, the students who multitasked performed much worse on the final test and those who were seated around peers who were multitasking also performed much worse on the final test.
So you might not be multitasking but if you have a clear view of someone else who is multitasking, your performance is still going to be impaired.”
So even if you’re not the one undertaking these multitasking activities, your learning and memory function can still be affected and you won’t perform as well as you would if you had just focused on the one task at hand.
However there are a few problems with this research. For starters, is it fair to say that multitasking solely caused the participants to receive worse results? Maybe the participants weren’t as intelligent as the others. Another approach would be to identify the reasons why people multitask in lectures, because the content may be uninteresting and may need to be revised. Furthermore, it’s interesting how multitasking with technology is being singled out as the only reason for this drop in productivity. Multitasking has been around for as long as humans have. Before we multitasked with our internet tabs, they multitasked with their cave drawings and starting fires (probably.) Why is it that we’re now blaming media for its problems?
I’m not saying the research is wrong. It’s definitely been proven that multitasking (while undertaken in an environment where you are expected to learn or perform,) reduces productivity. But I think we need to look at the bigger picture. Is multitasking the only cause?
Simplify your life and your tasks.
Do fewer things — better.
– Garth Sundem. 2012. Psychology Today. Available at:http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-trust/201202/is-your-brain-multitasking. [Accessed 13 September 14].
– Matt Petronzio. 2012. Only 2% of People Can Multitask Successfully. Available at:http://mashable.com/2012/08/13/multitasking-infographic/. [Accessed 13 September 14].
– Robert F. Bukaty. 2013. Laptop use lowers student grades, experiment shows. Available at:http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/laptop-use-lowers-student-grades-experiment-shows-1.1401860. [Accessed 13 September 14].