The Fear Of Multitasking Isn't Really About Multitasking

from the good-or-bad? dept

A few months back, we had a story about the downsides to constant multitasking, and wondered if, perhaps, today’s society has been glorifying the ability to multitask at the expense of being able to actually spend time paying attention to any one thing. It appears such fears are spreading, as some fret about workers who never pay attention at meetings or conferences. Still, this seems like the type of problem that will eventually work itself out. First of all, it isn’t really multitasking. Mostly, in those situations, the person’s interest simply isn’t being held by whatever else is going on in the room — so it isn’t so much about “multitasking” as it is about “alternative tasking.” The person has mostly checked out of what’s going on, finding something more valuable (in their minds) to spend time on. In other words, it’s not about the person doing multiple things at once, but deciding that the task involving their laptop or Blackberry or mobile phone has priority over whatever is going on in the room. If this is really impacting someone’s job, that should become clear over time. If they are unable to handle their job, in part because they get too focused on other tasks, then that shows up in their job performance — and suggests, not that they multitask too much, but that they fail to focus on the appropriate tasks at the appropriate time.

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Comments on “The Fear Of Multitasking Isn't Really About Multitasking”

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Chris Grey says:

Multitasking? Ha!

There has long been a ‘view’ that women are better at multitasking than men and that this is a good thing (for them). However I have long disputed this and in fact in one job interview, when asked about this by the female interviewer, stated that in my opinion no one really multitasks. Yes I can juggle many balls at once but that is a simple funtion of correctly prioritising. That is to say I have three (say) tasks and at this particular moment in time have prioritised one above the other two. It doesn’t mean that I have forgotten the other two, I am just paying MORE attention NOW to task one. If necessary the priority order can change and I’ll happily move my focus to one of the other tasks. If that is multtasking then I’d like to know what the difference is between it and prioritising (and my feeling is that anything else is a falacy; I’ve never seen anyone type two documents simultaneously).


Griff (profile) says:

Re: Multitasking? Ha!

I think when you drive with the radio on and chat to a passenger you are multi tasking. But only one is a “foreground” task, as evidenced by a desire to stop talking when encountering suddenly tricky traffic.

My wife talks to me less when driving than I do to her but that is because driving is still more of a foreground task for her (less years experience).

Most people in work do “tasxk switching”, not multi tasking. Those that cannot hack it have not masteredx the art of putting task 1 down completely before picking up task 2, so they carry baggage from all tasks in their minds.

MissingFrame (user link) says:

Re: Re: Multitasking? Ha!

You’ve been working on computers too much, the brain isn’t a single processor. Even driving is several “tasks” that are all happening at once.

Yes, some things seem to take the entire brain to process, but even while doing those things you can walk, chew gum, and listen for your name being yelled, all at the same time!

anonymous coward says:

i think the posters are missing the point. it’s not multi-tasking if you are sitting in a meeting writing emails, completely ignoring the meeting.

i had this happen recently and i had to stop the meeting and ask the people to pay attention or leave because their incessant pecking at their keyboards was distracting everyone. they looked at me like i was crazy. multitasking is one thing, rude behaviour is completely different.

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