I’ve been thinking about this idea for awhile now, and it seems to be popping all over my world these days, so I must share and, of course, add my two cents.
In the information age, when we are attempting to do 24 things all at once, the term “multitasking” has come to be a positive way to say “can pay attention to and do several tasks at once”. In actuality, multitasking has been found by research to not only impair the quality of the work one is producing, but it is also bad for your health.
In true actuality, though, multitasking does not exist. Gasp!
Ok, so I can type with both hands at once, and I can read a book while my heart pumps my blood; so in some way, you could say multitasking does exist. But when we are talking about attempting to pay attention to more than one task simultaneously, it just isn’t in the cards. As John Medina explains in his book Brain Rules, our brains cannot process “attention-rich inputs” simultaneously.
On the next resume I send out, I’m going to put that I’m a “singletasker”.
Mark McGuinness and Sami Paju of Lateral Action and their reference, John Medina, do a much more in-depth job at describing the myth of multitasking, so check them out.
I’m a big fan of working to make yourself better versus solving your problems with drugs or other unnatural remedies without first working on fixing the problem (you know, “work” – that thing they used to do in the old days before iPhones and Google). With the rise in popularity of ADD in the 1990s, every soccer mom and her six rowdy munchkins were just convinced that they have a serious disease, treatable only by high-potency drugs like Ridolin and Aderol. I have never been diagnosed with ADD, so I recognize my bias, but I have taken Aderol in college for good ole finals, and it scares me that seven year olds take that every day.
Enter… the multitask!
Now that we celebrate trying to do ten things at once, the need to focus becomes obsolete; except, of course, in academia, where there seems to be a problem with the kids sitting still for a 45 minute test. Light bulb! Instead of diagnosing our kids with ADD and accommodating the issue (shorter snippets in TV commercials and shows, etc.), why don’t we pry the video game controllers out from under their tiny, impressionable fingers and teach them to read – novels, I mean. ADHD? Have no fear! Send them to play outside… yes, in the grass and trees. I know it’s dirty, but we come from the same earth. Get over it.
I’ve ranted enough. My message is this: Instead of celebrating an idea that does not actually exist, and if it did would be detrimental to our health, why don’t we teach our kids and ourselves to focus and become engaged whole-mindedly in the task at hand?
Disclaimer: This is all in fun and games and to stimulate conversation. I recognize that the issue is not that cut and dry, and I look forward to reading your opinions on the subject – whether we agree or not. Please be tasteful in your comments, is all I ask.
Another great article about the relationship between being efficient and effective is here at Aliventures. Ali Hale’s blog is actually a great one to read in general. Enjoy!
The quotation from the title of this article comes from “Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work” by Mark McGuinness on LaterAction.com. Thanks, Mark!