The Myth of Multi-tasking

The Myth of Multi-tasking

Grow Talk by Sofy Robertson

Many job descriptions specify applicants who can cope under pressure and perform multiple tasks. It is projected that to be successful in business, you need to multi-task. The age-old cliché that men can’t multi-task has, for a long time, caused offense. But it turns out to be true. It is also worth mentioning, of course, that women, too, can’t multi-task.

For years, researchers have tried to tell us that multi-tasking doesn’t actually exist. In 2015, Dr Guy Winch told us that what we think is multi-tasking is actually just switching back and forth between tasks really quickly.

So what? You might be thinking. I can still boast to my potential employer that I can switch tasks quickly, therefore essentially multi-tasking. Unfortunately for you, research has shown that ‘multi-tasking’ can result in a productivity loss of up to 40%. It is a much better strategy to list your tasks and work systematically through them.

The same study showed that people who often ‘multi-task’ are more susceptible to being distracted. Distractions will always be present in the work place and managing these is paramount to maintaining productivity. However, if your brain is so used to switching quickly between multiple tasks, then distractions have a higher impact than they would on our steady worker (essentially, a bit of a Hare and Tortoise situation going on here).

Recent research into ‘multi-tasking’ and its effects has found that the transitions between task-switching are not as smooth as we’d like to think. There is a certain amount of lag time as your brain shifts attention from one task to another. ‘Multi-tasking’ can take as much as 40% more time than focusing on one task at a time.

In our highly technologically stimulated world, an increasing amount of us are guilty of ‘multi-tasking’ our way through day-today activities. Many of us have our phones out when we are eating, scrolling through social media or replying to emails. Lots of us are busy replying to emails while listening to colleagues’ conversations. And my personal favourite (it’s clearly my least favourite) is having your phone out while watching a film. My husband does it and it drives me crazy. Ditching this ‘multi-tasking’ approach to the digital world is arguably better for your relationships. You can go back to actually concentrating on your food, on what your colleagues are saying and on watching the film that your loving wife picked out and wants to share with you.

So at your next job interview when they ask you about your multi-tasking skills, you can call them on that particular fallacy and demonstrate your worldly knowledge of why that concept is a myth.


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