Multitasking Muddles the Mind

A lot of people like to think that they are good at multitasking. They believe that their minds are
like computers that can, at least seemingly, do more than one thing at
a time.

But, even as most computers don’t actually multitask
(except those that parallel process. All others time slice. That is, a computer works on
one task at a time, but only for a fraction of a second before it moves on to
another task. This switching occurs as such a rapid pace that it
appears as if multiple tasks are occurring simultaneously. But it
isn’t.), neither do most people. At least, unless you consider minds
that are split into conscious and unconscious. But that would be the
subject of another post.

No, what I’m talking about is the business person in a meeting, while responding to emails
on her Blackberry, while editing a complex memo. Or a student
studying while watching TV. None of these tasks will be performed as well as compared to a person
who is concentrating on one task at a time.

You can read this article
on the perils of multitasking
in the business setting (or
this one
) or this article about students in school.
But if you really want to try to multitask (and I don’t recommend this) then, like a computer, I think you have to learn to rapidly switch between tasks and attend to what is important in each task. One
study of driver performance
while also attending to, for example, an MP3 player, seems to indicate
that people may be able to learn to do this. Up to a point. But pass
that point, and bad things happen. The bottom line seems to be that things go best if you attend to only one thing at a time. YMMV. Insert disclaimer here.



2 responses to “Multitasking Muddles the Mind

  1. I can multitask perfectly, I can pick my nose while programming.
    I can also perfrtly rply whidj tlakilds no th ephone wiht smo curstomerrsh …. 🙂

  2. And task switching isn’t much safer. As with computers, we have overhead for switching tasks. So if we slice too thinly, we’ll spend more time switching and less time doing.