Very Interesting, But Stupid

“Multi-tasking: screwing everything up simultaneously.” – Anonymous

Read something recently that explains everything. Especially for those of us who brag that we are “multi-taskers”. From the cofounders of Button Up, “a company dedicated to helping stressed women get organized” come these words of surprising “time management truths”: multi-tasking “impairs intelligence and hurts efficiency.”

Who knew? I always thought of multitasking as a way to “mix things up” and keep boredom at bay while doing a number of mindless or not so mindless but unpleasant tasks. But I am wrong. (And no, this is not the only time I have ever been wrong, or ever will be wrong, no matter what my family says.)

The “Button Up” girls,  Sarah Welch and Alicia Rockmore wrote an article called the “Nine never changing laws of managing your time”. Number five dealt with multitasking. They said that researchers at the University of Michigan “have shown that multi-taskers actually take longer to finish work than those who did each task sequentially.” What really piqued my interest though was their provocative statement that “top-tier institutions like UCLA have shown that switching between tasks impairs our ability to learn and even impairs our IQ more than smoking marijuana.”

Apparently there are different ways to multitask, some less harmful than others. I Googled “advantages of multitasking” and found some info which broke the term down into two parts: background tasking and switch tasking.   Background tasking is “something completely mindless and mundane in the background such as exercising while listening to (a) CD, eating dinner and watching a show, or having the copy machine operate in the background while you answer emails.”  They noted though that “switch tasking” is “switching rapidly between one task and another” and that no matter how quickly that takes place in your mind, there is a high cost to switch tasking. As happens so often when you Google something, you are left with having to imagine just what the high cost is. I guess it is the time lost while going from one task to another, and remembering where you are in the task—at the beginning, the middle, or the end, as well as refocusing your energy and mind.

Some things fall just naturally under multi-tasking and are really neither background tasking nor switch tasking.  Cooking is multi-tasking at its most elevated level. Seriously, if you are fixing Thanksgiving dinner with turkey and all the fixings—if you follow the theory of the “Button Up” girls, and do everything sequentially, then you would cook the turkey, then the potatoes, then the stuffing (if you do not stuff the turkey as so many nutritionists are advocating now so you do not food poison yourself), then the corn, then make the jello, then thaw out the pumpkin pie (okay, you get the gist), you would be having Thanksgiving dinner about three days after you started. Now, I know I am being ridiculous to make a point here—but multitasking is a necessity in some areas of life.

Thanksgiving dinner in Canada.

Thanksgiving dinner in Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Modern technology lends itself to multitasking—we can do laundry, run a load of dishes through, talk on the phone, all while making scrambled eggs. The only danger here is that you will run out of hot water, or start stirring the eggs with the phone, which could get a bit messy.

I understand that there are some real dangers to multi-tasking though—especially if you are driving. Statistics have borne out the fact that we are not meant to chat on the phone, or heaven forbid, text while we are driving.

Apparently a study was done with high multi-taskers and low multi-taskers, and the former underperformed, had trouble filtering out distractions and in the end had a poorer memory. As I stated at the beginning of the article—this explains everything. It also explains why cooking, the ultimate multi-tasking task is not my strong suit.

Published in: on February 7, 2012 at 11:23 am  Leave a Comment  
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