The Ugly Truth About Multitasking

Sep 14
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Did you know that only 2 percent of us can really juggle multiple tasks without our performance’s taking a serious hit? 

WARNING: one study out of University of London showed that multitasking lowers your IQ by around 10 points. Are you now worried about missing out on higher IQ score because of the multitasking nature of your work, studies or personality? Don’t!

BREAKING NEWS: apparently there are exceptional people out there. David Strayer, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah, discovered a few “super” humans who can in fact multitask without sacrificing their performance. Dr Strayer calls them “supertaskers.” He believes that there is a very small but persistent subset of the population (which is about 2 percent) whose performance does not deteriorate, and can even improve, when multiple demands are placed on their attention,” explains a fascinating recent New Yorker article on Strayer’s work. However, just like anyone extraordinary, these people are true outliers.

OPPOSITION VIEW: the rest of the world cannot multitask. “When you perform multiple tasks that each require some of the same channels of processing, conflicts will arise between the tasks, and you’re going to have to pick and choose which task you’re going to focus on and devote a channel of processing to it,” says David Meyer, a cognitive scientist at the University of Michigan.

HOW OUR BRAIN WORKS? Meyer’s work explained how multitasking is problematic. It turns out the brain’s ability to process information is limited in a variety of ways including processing channels, limits on data volume, velocity and, of course, working memory. You simply can’t do two cognitively complicated tasks at the same time.

LIFE APPLICATION: “I can listen to a radio and write this blog post” I would say. Some people will argue that they can talk on the phone while writing an e-mail or making notes which is multitasking. David Mayer explains that when you’re on the phone and writing an e-mail at the same time, for example, you’re actually switching back and forth between the two tasks. There is only one mental and neural channel through which language flows. David Mayer argues that if a task complex enough and you continue to switch between a few you will end up not completing both of them or end up giving all your attention to one task only as it would get too hard to concentrate.

Moreover, David Mayer claims that multitasking is simply dangerous for your health. “Even the most adept multitasker will ‘crash and burn”’ trying to resolve simultaneous conflicting demands”, he says. This is exactly why mobile phones are not allowed while driving in Australia. When you’re driving, you have to use the language channel to read signs and plan your next move. However trying to have a phone conversation while reading signs or making a turn will never work, one task will end up being unperformed. Mayer claims, trying to complete two or more tasks at once can take 50 percent more time or longer (depending on the complexity of the tasks). This does not sound like something any of business people would want to hear. However it is not all that sad.

Criterion Conferences: the ugly truth of multitasking

There is, in fact, hope for the attention-span-challenged. Self-regulation, time management and scheduling can increase your productive so you don’t need to multitask and get more work done. “If you’re disciplined enough, you can map out the usage of your time in a way that minimizes your exposure to interruptions,” Meyer explains.


If multitasking stresses you out, learn how to manage your workplace stress

Submitted by Criterion Content Team

Criterion Content Team

This post has been written by the Criterion Conferences Content Team. Based in Sydney, we are an independent research organisation, producing over 90 conferences a year across a variety of industries. Our events, attended by thousands of senior delegates from the public and private sector, are designed to enrich, inspire and motivate. Our focus is on providing innovative, value adding content via our conferences and blogs like this are extension of that principle. You can view our conferences by visiting our website

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