Friday, April 29, 2011

Multitasking Makes You Stupid, Slow and Dumber

Multitasking. That’s what every job out there puts on its “qualifications list”. Basically, it just means that you can be assigned to doing more than one thing at once or to be more precise—to be able to get more than one thing done at the same time. It sounds good enough to me but does it? Really?

Out of the top of my mind, I know that if you talk on the phone while you are driving, you will pay a fine. If I am not mistaken—that is multitasking. If you text while driving, you have a higher probability of getting yourself into an accident and that is also multitasking. Is it still a good thing?

Is talking on the phone while writing down a report and checking the latest e-mail has to all be done at the same time? Or is it that they want you to be able to work parallely in two projects allocating your time however you want it to be? I am asking because obviously those are two different things. The first type is more of trying to get everything done at the same time because apparently there is not enough time or at least that is what we tell ourselves. While the second is more inclined to good time management but not necessarily multitasking.

A lot of people welcome interruption and gladly say with a smile on their face “I am okay with it. I can multitask”. Naturally, it sounds great. Who doesn’t want to check Facebook and Twitter, chitchat a little, read a text or receive a phone call while they work? After all, work can be very dry and to think to stay eight hours straight without a break! That is absurd. Don’t get me wrong, I want breaks as well. Though when you come to think about it, if you take a break while working as in a form of “multitasking”, it isn’t really a break. Is it? You are still working while you are taking the break. Remember?

Then I recall the time when I am on the phone talking and so desperately wanting to write an email at the same time. I think most if not all of us come to that situation. For me, like everybody else of course I can do it, but I will be lying if I said I can write the e-mail as efficiently and error free as I would have if I wasn’t on the phone.  So, I was thinking is it just me or do others feel the same? You see, people always say they can multitask and well including me for that matter, but the question laid out is—Are we more efficient when we multitask or when we focus at one thing at a time?

It turns out—multitasking is bad for your brain.

Scientists today use medical-scanning technology to observe the activity of different parts of brains while doing their studies to trying to reveal and understand this phenomenon.  

According to studies, it is not just me who is not as efficient when multitasking. It’s everybody!

“When people try to perform two or more related tasks either at the same time or alternating rapidly between them, errors go way up, and it takes far longer--often double the time or more--to get the jobs done than if they were done sequentially,” says David E. Meyer, director of the Brain, Cognition and Action Laboratory at the University of Michigan. This happens because when we alternate between tasks, each time the brain has to restart and focus. The brain restarts each time you switch from doing work to checking the email to tweeting that you have got so much work left to be done.

Remember the last time when you were talking to a senior and he/she totally forgot what you were discussing after being interrupted by a phone call?  It turns out, it’s not their fault. A study by Adam Gazzely, revealed that older folks have a hard time multitasking as their "working memory performance was impaired by interruptions". Seniors find it harder to switch from one act to another as their brain restarts their focus. Be patient with them, I suppose.

A lot of us say that they can better study while watching TV or listening to music. Apparently, that is just in our heads. Russel Poldrack, UCLA associate professor of psychology, in another study reveals that, "Even if you learn while multi-tasking, that learning is less flexible and more specialized, so you cannot retrieve the information as easily.” In other words, trying to learn new concepts while being distracted will worsen your learning capabilities. So, the next time you want study while watching your favorite show on TV, know you are fooling yourself. Somehow, I guess.

Last but not least, does that mean to never multitask? Absolutely not! No one wants that. Just try not to multitask when you work or while trying to learn something new. Otherwise, knock yourself out!

Now excuse me, I need to go scan my Facebook newsfeed and check my e-mail before I publish this.

Image Credits to Photographer: Maggie Smith

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شريف خيري said...

Nice post! :) I very much agree..

but what about listening to music or any other multitasking stuff while signing unimportant papers? :)
I think, and I might be wrong, that this doesn't apply for the regular daily activities that does not need concentrating.

Sherwette Mansour said...

Yes, if you don't need to concentrate then multitask :D

In fact multitasking helps if you listen to music while you jog. It motivates you. However, it wouldn't at all help if you are trying to focus or learn ;)

Mohamed Hani said...

For me Music is a way that relaxes each and every sense in ones body. I tend to listen to music even when i'm studying a dirty math problem. For some reason it just enhances my focus and delivers me to a full concentration state of mind. Coming to think about a little more, I can't hear what's playing in my ears, I'm only focused on one thing, THE DIRTY MATH PROBLEM ....

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