Multitasking Part 1: Are You Really As Good As You Think You Are?

Young woman driving , applying lipstick and speaking on her smart phoneTrue story: A friend hit a mailbox. She couldn’t understand why, but she said she was driving a car while putting on makeup, eating breakfast, and talking on the phone at the same time.

It seems that all of us are multitasking these days and the younger generations have seemingly built their lives on perfecting the fine art of multitasking.

Is it good? Is it bad? The answer is “Yes! Multitasking is both good and bad.”

This is the first part of a 4-part series on multitasking. I think you will find this series to  be very interesting and extremely helpful. Here is the plan:

Part 1: What Multitasking Is and Some Interesting Facts About It

Part 2: Bad Multitasking: Those Who Shouldn’t Multitask, Do It the Most

Part 3: Good Multitasking: The Good News Is, Multitasking Isn’t All Bad

Part 4: Practical Tips: How To Do It, Do It, Do It Right

A Computer and Your Brain

The term “multitasking” first was coined in the 1960’s to describe when multiple tasks were being performed by one CPU (computer brain). The word eventually also came to be used to describe when a person was performing multiple tasks at one time. It is a bit of a misconception, however, because neither a CPU nor your brain can actually do more than one thing at a time.

Then why does it seem like we can multitask? Like a computer, our brains are capable of performing multiple tasks so quickly in succession it seems they are being performed at the same time. The big difference between the human brain and the computer CPU is that a computer is very good at handling the “shut off” and “start up” procedures necessary to switch back and forth between two or more tasks. Our brains are really not very good at it. (More interesting scientific facts about this in Part 2.)

“Multitasking is a lie because nearly everyone accepts it as an effective thing to do, but when you try to do two things at once, you either can’t or won’t do either well. Multitasking is an effective way to get less done.” (Gary Keller in his book, “The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results” -emphasis mine.)

Multitasking Is Killing Us

We are literally dying from multitasking—one fast way, and one slow way.

The fast way to a multitasking death—multitasking while driving a car.
Here are the facts:

  • Texting while driving makes a driver 23x more likely to crash.
  • Drivers talking on a cell phone are 4x more likely to have a car accident.
  • In 2012 in the USA, 3,328 people were killed in distraction-related crashes.
  • In 2012 in the USA, almost half a million people were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver.

The slow way to a multitasking death— higher tension, blood pressure, and stress from multitasking.

“There is data to show that multitasking leads to more distractibility and poor concentration…When we’re in speed mode, we have to be more on edge and alert, which naturally creates tension and agitance…We also would do well to place limits on the times during which we multitask.” (Marc Schoen in his book, “Your Survival Instinct Is Killing You: Retrain Your Brain to Conquer Fear, Make Better Decisions, and Thrive in the 21st Century.”)

Some Interesting Facts About Multitasking

Multitasking Is Killing Productivity
While at work, the average American:

  • checks email more than 11 times a day
  • open their inbox every 20 minutes
  • took 15 minutes to return to their previous task after checking email

Because of this, some scientists estimate that the average American focuses on one task only about 15 minutes per hour.

Women Really Are Better At Multitasking!
Some recent researchers* have found that under certain conditions the old adage really is true: women really are better at multitasking than men.

Well, I’m don writing this article, so it’s time for me to turn off my music, shut down my email, and quit texting. I think I need to read my next post about why, when, and where we shouldn’t multitask! Stay tuned.

*Gijsbert Stoet, Daryl B O’Connor, Mark Conner and Keith R Laws. Are women better than men at multitasking? BMC Psychology, October 2013

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