The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly on Multitasking

The endless debate on multitasking is futile, no concise conclusion will ever be made that will satisfy those saying it promotes productivity, and those who believe it is making us dumb. I’m here to shed some light on all sides of the debate.

The Good

Chinese researchers have found that multitasking, 21st Century style, is good for the brain. Through a series of experiments, Scientists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong have found that ‘media multitasking’ can positively affect ‘cognitive abilities and multi-sensory integration’, as they enable us to combat the unexpected more readily, and help us distinguish different things amongst clutter.

The Bad

On the flip side, Forbes magazine published an article declaring that multitasking makes a person stupid more than marijuana, or a night of no sleep. ‘The Energy Project Audit found that 69% of workers have difficulty focusing on one thing at a time and are easily distracted during the day, especially by email’ (Loder, 2014). James Manktelow, founder of Mind Tools, also supports the notion that multitasking is negative, and the ‘biggest problem with it is that it can lower the quality of our work’ (Mind Tools, 2012).

The Ugly

Almost in support of this, researcher, Meyer, has found that although switching between two tasks can take less than a second, productivity can reduce by 40% (Cherry, 2010). Psychologist, Kendra Cherry acknowledges that although a fraction of a second mightn’t make a difference while folding laundry and watching television, it can be critical when driving and talking on the phone. Cherry concludes that multitasking can be a great risk, but ‘of course, the situation plays an important role’ (Cherry, 2010).

Another particular study by Rubinstein, Meyer and Evans, found that task-switching can waste 20-40% of our time, depending on what we’re doing.

I’m trying to point out a trend, an ugly trend. While there are many writers and researchers who sit on either side of the fence, arguing that multitasking is either inherently bad, or inherently good, most seem to be sitting on the fence. The common conclusion made is that multitasking can be both productive and risky, depending on what activity you’re doing.

I hate to be a conformist, so I won’t agree.

There is a common misconception surrounding what multitasking is. Dr Weinschenk claims that what we deem as multitasking is actually synonymous with ‘task-switching’, where we switch between tasks simultaneously, but not working on multiple things at the exact same time.

Computers often work by multitasking, which greatly improves efficiency and productivity, so why is it often disliked when we’re the ones doing it?

Not to be proud, but I’m great at multitasking. Not because I can text and watch TV, while playing a game of chess (which I can do), but because I play drums. I can play 6/8 time with one foot, 9/8 time with the other, 7/8 with one hand, and 4/4 with the other. It sounds awfully complex, but really it comes naturally, and it sates the true definition of multitasking; when a person ‘deals with more than one task at a time’.

I argue that multitasking is a positive thing because, yes, it stimulates our brains, and often is a natural behaviour. Talking and walking, singing and playing guitar, and running while dribbling a basketball are all examples of true multitasking. So next time you try to justify texting and driving as skilful multitasking, remember that you’re actually just trying to switch between two tasks, which research has proven is dangerous, not natural.

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