Monday, January 31, 2011

Think you can multitask?

Computers can. People can't — at least not the important stuff.

At Y2 Consulting Psychologists, we know that when people are asked to multi-task, they are — in reality — being asked to do the impossible. It's like suggesting that someone juggle several balls in the air, even though they have never done it before.

And people who claim that they can multi-task are doing no more than focusing their attention first on one task and then — in rapid succession — on another and another.

Simply put, when you try to do two (or more) things at once, chances are that you will do none of them very well.

And so while you can sing while you take a shower in the morning (something routine and familiar) or fold laundry (something routine and familiar) while you talk to the neighbor on your cell, other types of multitasking can be downright dangerous, such as texting while driving to work, or blow-drying your hair while taking a bath.

Overall, it has been shown time and again that carrying out or completing one task and then moving to the next — in an orderly and logical fashion — means that each task is completed more quickly and more successfully than trying to accomplish several things all at once. This is called single or uni-tasking.

Trying to multi-task can create unnecessary stress at work and at home. It's easier and more effective to single-task — to establish priorities for our daily activities, keep things in perspective, ask for a helping hand, and reduce the distractions (try leaving your wrist watch at home — and going through the day without it).

Often, a Statement of Merit Criteria for government jobs will list "multitasking" among the desired personal suitability factors. For example, it may say they are looking for someone who "possesses exceptional multi-tasking and organizational skills to effectively manage high volume of tasks and be able to work within tight deadlines."

But why?

The idea of multitasking became attractive because of a number of commonly-held beliefs — that more could be done in less time, that tasks would get done quicker, and that it would help employees learn how to deal with work distractions and interruptions.

It may also be linked to the fact that the work environment and society, in general, are becoming more and more technologically wired, and that the ability to use multiple technologies simultaneously will keep people of all ages adaptable, relevant, and more effective in the workplace.

We believe that single or uni-tasking leads to a more enjoyable life both inside and outside the office. It results in higher levels of concentration, and significant progress on tasks that require high-level cognitive processing... When accomplished one at a time.

Finally, uni-tasking saves time and reduces stress. And we can all do with more of the former and less of the latter.

Have an opinion on this subject that you'd like to share? Please feel free...

Leaman Long, B.A., B.Ed.
Y2 Consulting Psychologists

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