Multitasking has been a prominent subject of discussion in the academic and industrial sectors. People often argue whether multitasking is good or bad. Some individuals consider multitasking to be harmful, and others believe it is a pseudoforce that gets the best out of them in a short amount of time. I would like to tell you what multitasking means, according to various renowned researchers worldwide. As per an article published in 2012 by Thomas Buser and Noemi Peter, multitasking is people switching between multiple contingent tasks. Another psychological research by Laura et al. (2017) defined multitasking as the execution of two or more tasks performed in the same time window, either simultaneously or in rapid succession.
Multitasking Versus a Balancing Act
There are specific tasks that are just an act of balancing, not multitasking. For instance, playing guitar, walking on rope, yoga postures, and others are an act of balancing. Such activities may include many subtasks, but they work toward one goal. We cannot call the act of balancing divided attention. Instead, it focuses attention on accomplishing one single ultimate task.
Humans and Multitasking
You may wonder what leads to multitasking. In my opinion, the ubiquity of digital devices, to-do lists, multiple deadlines, or even thoughts results in diverted attention from the task at hand. Divided attention to anything is terrible as we may sometimes end up doing nothing at all. Divided attention includes working on different ventures to get a better reputation in an employer’s eye, studying multiple courses to get better knowledge, reading emails or text while on a call to save time, and switching from one social media handle to another to stay updated. Be that as it may, the fact of the matter is reading someone’s text should not be combined with another task. Are you saving time by doing multiple things simultaneously, or are you taking even more time? Think about it.
The concept of parallelism in a single-core CPU is similar to what our human brain tries to imitate. In computers, the illusion of parallelism is due to the operating system switching very fast among processes. Yet even a digital system as fast as a CPU executes only one task, while others await their turn. Therefore, multitasking is a mirage that our brain plays. Earl Miller, professor of neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, once said, “People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves. The brain is very good at deluding itself.”
We simply can’t focus on more than one thing at a time. Often, though unintentionally, we group many activities together to “save” time. Doing so may save time in some cases, so much so that you will not ever believe that multitasking can have a negative side as well. So, can you decide yet if multitasking is harmful or not? Read along.
I am not the first to bring up the adverse consequences of multitasking behavior in humans. New York Times Columnist Thomas L. Friedman (2006) labels our multitasking age “The Age of Interruption.” As a quick activity, go to Google Scholars and search for “Multitasking in Humans” to find hundreds of research studies that talk about the negative impacts of multitasking. A portion of these studies does highlight the advantages of multitasking; however, as I would see it, it is not worth losing your mind and precious time over a couple of benefits.
Multitasking Is Gender Neutral
I want to clear up a misconception that has been around for ages: women are good at multitasking. A 2012 article by Buser and Peter says that women suffer as much as men when forced to multitask and are less inclined to multitask when free to choose. From now on, this is an ideal opportunity to quit advancing such generalizations. In fact, multitasking is a matter of human behavior and has nothing to do with a specific gender.
Dealing With Multitasking
Now that we have established that multitasking has severe consequences on human beings, what do we do next? For starters, try not to drop everything now in a frenzy as you read this article. My intention is not to spread fear but to make people aware of the harmful impacts of multitasking. You should sit back and reflect on the way you have been working. You may ask the following questions of yourself:
- Is it sound the way I am managing multiple activities?
- Am I multitasking as a result of time mismanagement?
- Am I multitasking because I am unable to prioritize my job and other activities?
- Is it productive the way I am working?
Indeed, this is my view, and there must be many other questions one can consider, which may be beyond my knowledge right now, but I hope you get what I am trying to convey. Understand the difference between pushing yourself and pushing too much. Know what is important to you and make sure you have room to do all that you take on. We need to understand when to drop a plan or when say no to things beyond our bandwidth. Set your boundaries, communicate them with people around you, and make sure to manage them. It requires your attention from time to time to ensure that you are not falling into this mirage that our brain plays. Take up multiple tasks, but don’t bustle. Work harder, but don’t agitate.
I would like to wrap up this article with one piece of advice that Philip Stanhope (fourth Earl of Chesterfield) offered in one of the many letters he wrote to his son:
There is time enough for everything, in the course of the day, there is time enough for everything if you do but one thing at once; but there is not time enough in the year if you will do two things at a time.
— Swati Rajwall