Multitasking vs Quick Switch

multitasking vs quick switch
Drawing by Adrian Serghie

   In society, multitasking is seen as the ability to do multiple things in the same time and as stephaniedanielsonauthor pointed out in a previous comment, employers are in a search for this skill because they think it’s effective even though studies show that it isn’t (Junco & Cotton, 2010 & 2012).

   “Human multitasking is an apparent human ability to perform more than one task, or activity, at the same time. An example of multitasking is taking phone calls while typing an email and reading a book. Multitasking can result in time wasted due to human context switching and apparently causing more errors due to insufficient attention. Studies have shown that it is impossible to focus on more than one task at a time, therefore multitasking is the process of rapidly shifting attention between tasks. If one becomes proficient at two tasks it is possible to rapidly shift attention between the tasks and perform the tasks well/proficiently.” – Wikipedia

   This quote seems to define multitasking as the ability to switch the focus. But isn’t that the contrary of multitasking? Switching the focus implies processing one thing at a time so it’s basically a continuous single tasking. Maybe from a cognitive perspective, things happen so fast that it seems we do multiple things at once when we actually do it one at a time but we quickly switch from one thing to another.

   Maybe it’s just a semantics issue and the skill itself is not to do multiple things in the same time, but to quickly switch between them. Now the question is: how productive is this thing? It’s true that we manage to do more, but doesn’t it take longer? If we do concentrate all our efforts towards one thing at a time, isn’t more efficient (I talked more about this focusing thing here)? I guess that this world requires more of our attention and because of this, we tend to do multiple things at once. I’m worrying more about the quality of the job instead of the quantity of it.

   In which areas of your life would you like to multitask more and in which would you like to multitask less?

25 thoughts on “Multitasking vs Quick Switch

  1. there are some things that seem like a waste of time, so being able to do something else at the same time can make it seem more efficient. Like texting whilst waiting in a queue…

    I would like to pay better attention when people talk to me. Unless it’s deliberate to encourage them to go away 😉 (like at work when we’re busy & someone blatantly just wants to chat)

    1. I love the fact that you would like to pay better attention to people when they talk to you! I think it’s a great way to improve our communication and relationship with other people!

    2. I also found your comment that you’d like to pay better attention when people speak to you as very telling. We have been talking about multitasking as if it’s simply an annoyance, but your comment suggests that it’s actually harmful. It think multitasking actually harms those who do it (or are forced to do it) in a number of important ways. In fact, I’m thinking about writing a follow-up post to my “Time Is Money” piece from last week. This second post would be darker than the first and would actually look at what is happening to people who multitask. I wonder if it might actually be “rewiring” our brains in ways that are very detrimental.

  2. When I was in low level accounting, multitasking was imperative to keep up various production quotas, now that I’m in the health field, I don’t practice this. I make sure to spend time with a patient until their request is finished, I don’t jump from one person to the next in between. Because I work with the elderly, leaving one in the meantime to go and help another could end up a disaster. It’s easy to get side tracked in another patient’s request especially when it’s short staffed.

  3. I have a love hate relationship with multi-tasking. On one hand I hate to waste time and “touch things twice” so to speak. On the other hand, I feel we have become so immersed in this belief of accomplishing more and more over the course of a day that it prevents us from being present and in the current moment. No one or not one thing is getting all of me or the best of me because either my brain and/ or body is either doing or thinking multiple things at once. I am trying to undo this habit and am teaching my daughter balance. But it is not easy. We receive so many conflicting messages these days.

    1. Yes, it’s not easy! And as you said, we receive so many conflicting messages these days that we cannot even decide what’s better for us. I guess it requires a lot of self-analysis to get to a conclusion.

      1. Apparently, that can depend on a person’s age. One source said, “previous research has shown that walking performance can be impaired in the elderly when they dual-task during gait.” So, that leaves me wondering…what’s their tipping point for “elderly?”

  4. There is a great book out there called ‘The One Thing’ by Gary Keller. It shows statistics on how multitasking can actually be counterproductive and contributes to less quality work. Also causes more stress at the same time. It is almost worth it to try and accomplish one thing at a time, and eliminate the unimportant things you can, since you can do fewer things at higher quality.

      1. Absolutely, hope it helps you out a bit. Its really all about prioritizing and deciding whats really important. They say that 80% of our results come from 20% of the activities we do.

  5. I’m happy to have inspired you! To toss in my reply: I’d love to multi-task more with my writing, and much less when trying to focus on people talking to me. My brain is so full of thoughts that I’ve made a conscious effort to listen better and really focus.

Leave a Reply