This NY Times article somehow snuck by me last week, but I went back and dug it up after someone recommended it to me (why?). Basically it discusses unsurprising findings of a Stanford University study on multitaskers: people who try to do 4 things at once are usually mediocre or bad at all of them.
But, wait. Should it be breaking news that a single person can’t juggle knives and explain quantum physics while polishing off an artichoke?
Breaking news and a shock to the researchers themselves, as it turns out. Originally, the team of researchers, whose findings are published in the Aug. 24 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, were trying to find out what unusual cognitive gifts multitaskers possessed that made them so successful at multitasking.
They’re still looking.
“Multitaskers were just lousy at everything,” said Clifford I. Nass, a professor of communication at Stanford and one of the study’s investigators. “It was a complete and total shock to me.”
Initially suspecting that multitaskers possessed some rare and enviable qualities that helped them process simultaneous channels of information, Professor Nass had been “in awe of them,” he said, acknowledging that he himself is “dreadful” at multitasking. “I was sure they had some secret ability. But it turns out that high multitaskers are suckers for irrelevancy.”
I’ll be the first to admit I have my moments where I’m in the middle of 5 things all at the same time. I’ll also admit that I’m usually on the computer doing something while on a phone call (checking email, looking things up, etc), and I KNOW that I’m not doing either task (talking on the phone or reading on the internet or email) particularly well, yet I can’t help myself. I’ve been more aware of my multitasking over the last few months, making an effort to only have one thing in front of me at a time, but I have to say it is REALLY hard. Multitasking is a really hard habit to break. I wonder if that in a world where multitasking is supported, encouraged, heck even forced, we’re putting ourselves in a position to have to work more in order to make up for mediocrity.
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- Why Multitaskers Stink at Multitasking (blogs.wsj.com)
- The Mediocre Multitasker (nytimes.com)
- People who multitask are often bad at it: study (ctv.ca)