Multi-tasking Is Self Defeating

multitaskingOk, I know I will likely raise the ire of readers here who are, by definition, likely multi-taskers.  I mean, online students typically choose the online methodology for learning precisely because they’re too busy with jobs and family to devote so much time to on-campus classes.  So while you’re here reading, toggling back and forth between this blog and your course work, feeding the baby, balancing the checkbook and getting your things together to go back to work tomorrow morning, let me tell you why such multi-tasking is bad for you.  **Ducks and covers to avoid hurled projectiles**

Professor David Meyer of University of Michigan recently completed a study where he asked students in a math class to perform two mathematical problems at the same time.  He asked a control group to perform the same two equations one after the other.  Categorically, the group that was working both problems at the same time took longer to complete both than the control group who did them in succession. 

I probably don’t have to tell anyone how distracting incoming emails can be while working.  I know for me, as I write this blog, every time an email hits my inbox making that little electronic jingle noise, my blogging is interrupted as I toggle over to see who has emailed me.  And don’t get me started on Twitters, IMs and other electronic “pokes” emanating from friends and co-workers. 

My best advice — and a growing consensus among the people who study such things — is to schedule your tasks in order of priority and tackle them one at a time.  Clean up your work area, both your actual desktop and computer desktop.  Close all applications but the one for the project at hand and focus on one task at a time.  I think you’ll find that you get more done.  And more importantly, the quality of the work you do, and the attention to the details therein will rise.

What are your thoughts?  Do you stand by your ability to successfully multi-task?  Or does it make you more distracted?

11 Responses to “Multi-tasking Is Self Defeating”

  1. Donna Atkins

    In response to Thelma’s previous comment, if the related post avers that we are only able to do one task well at any given time, contrary to the oft held belief that multi-tasking is a great skill to have, then why would we expect to be paid per task?

  2. Tracy Burkholder

    I read your blog, and I agree with you to a point. I think that you can be efficient at mulit-tasking if you prioritize your work. I will use myself as an example. I love to be busy. The busier the better. I have gotten overwhelmed before, but over all I love to have many things to do, and I always prioritize from most important to least. Great blog!!

  3. Allyson Chudnofsky

    I enjoyed reading this post, because it is so true! I like to think I successfully multitask, but in reality it gets to be very overwhelming. At my current place of employment I will be on the phone, emailing a customer and writing notes on post-its all at the same time! I feel that when I multitask, I think I am getting everything accomplished faster, but in actuality I may not be. As much as I try to prioritize, it never seems to help, because I constantly want to be busy and accomplish many things at once. This was a great post and really made me reconsider multitasking so much!

  4. Helena Henry

    Define Multi-tasking. If you’re defining multi-tasking as doing five things(activities) at once and doing none of them well, then that is totally counterproductive and can lead to mistakes and having to do something twice. For example,listening to rock music while doing your homework while answering IM’s and talking on the phone is a typical scenario for many people and I’d shoot myself if I ever had to do that. If you’re talking about being able to handle many tasks successfully within a given time frame by prioritizing and concentrating on one at a time, then that is a time management skill worth developing.That’s the way I get things done on time correctly.

  5. Stacy Williams

    I agree with Helena, If I were answering the phone, watching t.v, texting, listening to the radio and trying to do homework, then NO WAY is that good (maybe that is why so many kids are failing in schools today). On the other hand, if I were at work and had several tasks that needed to be completed then I would consider that as challenging, but possible to do and to do well. In response to the math problem, I don’t think it would be that bad if you have a plan on how to attack the problems. Just my opinion.

    • Nancy Lee

      I enjoyed reading this blog. I believe people could achieve more out of their work if they could work on one task at a time, but in this fast pace world, I don’t think we can afford too. We multitask at work and at home; if you’re an online student with a family, children, a dog, a life, you are probably multitasking at some point, but you must know when your taking on too much because then nothing gets done. While you’re in pursuit of a job, as I am, then you know multitasking is a big deal to an employer and anyone who admits they’re not capable of multitasking probably has less of a chance of being hired.

  6. I have really enjoyed listening (?) to the different opinions of multitasking. My experience is this-my boss doesn’t care how I get my job done-just that I get it done. Sometimes multitasking just makes sense. Certain jobs just seem to fit into each other so multitasking is a natural step and flows well. Sometimes it makes no sense and is a struggle. I just know from experience that when I “change” tasks, I still have to give each task my complete attention or mistakes are inevitable. Prioritizing is definitely important, you just have to have the ability to make “side trips” throughout your day. My idea of multitasking is to take the list of “must do’s” and prioritize them, understanding that throughout the day other things will constantly also need to be dealt with-usually at the same time. Give each thing your complete attention as necessary to do them all correctly. Multitasking is pointless if we are making mistakes.

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