The Multi-tasking Fallacy

by Mike Clayton  - June 4, 2010

I have been thinking about multi-tasking a lot lately, in preparation for writing about it in Chapter 4.

MultiTasking5

There was a fascinating series of experiments last year (2009) at Stanford University, in which Professor Clifford Nass and his colleagues, Eyal Ophir and Anthony Wagner, wanted to find out what gives multitaskers their edge. You can read about their experiments and see a short video here.

What they discovered is that multi-taskers don�t have an edge; indeed, they have some serious shortcomings. Here are the three problems that they found in the way that multi-taskers process information.

Stuck at ‘on’

Multi-taskers find it hard to ignore irrelevant information – it’s as if their brains cannot turn off to stuff.

Disorganised Filing

Multi-taskers are poorer at remembering things – maybe because they move onto the next thing so quickly that they don’t have time to write the information into their short term memory.

Contamination

Multi-taskers find that the things they are not supposed to be doing interfere with doing the things they should be doing.

Brilliant Time Tip

Multi-tasking is a poor way to manage your time. Not only is it inefficient, it often produces higher error rates alongside the inevitable fact that the whole set of tasks actually takes longer than if they were done one at a time, with each given your full attention. So pick your jobs one at a time and get stuck in until it’s done. Then move on.

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