Thursday, June 26, 2014

Multitasking is a Myth

Ours has become a society of multitaskers under the delusion that they are completing more and becoming more successful. The image of the multitasker is a memorable one: frazzles, distracted, tired, and detached. Their accessories include cell phone, lists, pens, datebooks, and coffee. They believe they get more done in a day than most people accomplish all week, but is that really the case?


Employers want multitaskers. A quick survey of any help wanted section of any newspaper or website can confirm that. Take a look at any resume and one of the buzzwords that will jump out is “multitasker” or any combination of buzzwords that all amount to the same: more work done, less money spent.

As a nursing student, the prime message impressed upon me was that I would be expected to juggle multiple tasks for multiple patients simultaneously, and making a mistake could cost someone their well being or even their life. That’s a lot of pressure. It is a safe presumption that no one gets into nursing or medicine with the expectation of ever harming anyone, but the high value placed on multitasking as a skill is a mistake that does cause harm.

Multitasking is a concept that comes to us from computer science. It refers to a computer’s ability to perform more than one task simultaneously, in effect, performing more efficiently. Transposed to humans, the concept is basically the same. The brain performs two or more tasks simultaneously thereby allow us to accomplish more in less time. Here’s the problem: we are not machines. While the mind has been referred to as a great computer, the fact is clear: we are organic, conscious, living beings. We are not computers. It isn’t completely accurate to say humans are incapable of multitasking, the mere act of walking is an exercise in multitasking; however, it is inaccurate to say multitaskers are ultimately more efficient.

It is well documented that distracted drivers are poorer drivers. This is also true of students: those of us who multitask while learning have poorer grades. Personal relationships suffer due to multitasking as well. Our social connections are not improved by multitasking, but in fact are diminished because partial attention isn't as fulfilling as undivided attention. Countless studies have established that we are less efficient when we multitask due to the brain having to focus and refocus.

This leads me to rebel against questions whose sole person are to send the message that workers are supposed to do it all and do it well. I embrace performing one task to completion at a time and make major accommodations to do so.

How do you feel about multitasking?


Tweet me your thoughts @JimmyDurham9 or comment here!

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