We were talking about this yesterday and the one defending the ability to multi-task was actually a young guy. Sorry but as I watched him operate, he was certainly dividing his time but that’s all it was:
Dividing his time.
I think when people refer to multitasking, what they really mean is that they can switch from one thing to another quickly. My mother could do that, often leaving us bewildered but possibly she was doing eight things only a quarter as well.
It is true though that when you’ve done something to the point it’s become second nature, then doing two things might be done as fast and as well as someone else’s one. But if it’s a new situation, demanding attention and care, then that drags the multi-tasking down.
The article at the end of the link here says:
A recent Harvard Business Review post says that multitasking leads to as much as a 40% drop in productivity, increased stress, and a 10% drop in IQ (Bergman, 2010).
Seems to me that what we have going on with a good multitasker can be represented by this sequence: if the tasks are A, B and C and the steps of each are 1, 2, 3, 4, then it might go A1, A2, B1, C1, A3, B2, A4, C2, B3, B4, C3, C4, providing all steps were familiar.
Were you able, just now, to tell if I’d covered all of them?
I couldn’t. I counted 12, looked at the A sequence, then B and the start of C and was satisfied it was covered.
I’ve seen a cook do eight or nine different things one after the other – is that multitasking or is it sequencing in a familiar way, which is what driving a car is or even piano playing? Equally, I have seen a cook concentrate on a new dish and want no interruptions.
The quote above speaks of loss of productivity overall. However, if you can sequence to a point with each of A, B and C, leaving off when an impasse has been reached and concentrating on another, then all the bits may dovetail better and so the efficiency is better.
Finally, there is the issue of the chronic multitasker or one full of his or her own ability to multitask, someone who lets you know he or she is the goods. When someone goes on about it, as you could gather, I tend to concentrate on that person more closely to see just how good he or she is. Until now, the result has been as per that Bergman study.
Your experience, of course, might be different.
Filed under: Society & human issues