Are multitaskers good at multitasking? Not Really

Are multitaskers good at multitasking? Not Really

By SiliconIndia   |   Tuesday, 25 August 2009, 02:27 Hrs   |    42 Comments
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Are multitaskers good at multitasking? Not Really
Bangalore: Multitaskers are considered as the geniuses and Gods of the 21st century. Have you ever wondered what is it that multitaskers do that you can't? The answer is nothing. Stanford University researchers have challenged a prevailing myth that multitaskers are better at processing and organizing information. The people who multitask the most are the ones who are worst at it and are less able to ignore irrelevant information than people who do less multitasking.

The survey was conducted on 262 college undergraduates, dividing them into high and low multitasking groups and comparing such things as memory, ability to switch from one task to another and being able to focus on a task. Researchers gave the students a form listing a variety of media such as print, television, computer-based video, music, computer games, telephone voice and text. The researchers had thought that people who do a lot of multitasking would be good at ignoring irrelevant information but it wasn't so.

When it came to such essential abilities, people who did a lot of multitasking didn't score as well as others. "We knew that multitasking was difficult from a cognitive perspective. We thought, 'What's this special ability that people have that allows them to multitask?' ... Rather than finding things that they were doing better, we found things they were doing worse," said Eyal Ophir, Professor of Symbolic Systems at Stanford.

Multitasking is already blamed for car crashes as several countries have restricted the use of cell phones while driving. The scientists concluded that constant media multitaskers have difficulty focusing and are not able to ignore irrelevant information. "They couldn't ignore stuff that doesn't matter. They love stuff that doesn't matter. High multitaskers just love more and more information. Their greatest thrill is to get more," said Clifford Nass, a Professor at Stanford's Communications Department.

Ophir says that multitaskers were unable to stop thinking about the task they were not doing. "The high multitaskers are always drawing from all the information in front of them. They can't keep things separate in their minds," he added.

The researchers' findings are reported in Tuesday's edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Reader's comments(42)
1: hi,
we do the multi tasking in our day today at home.
watch tv and do our routen work.
when we are at work most of the when you do multitasking you are not aware what you do some time,for example you read some mail and attend to a mobile call and you are not clear what you are discussing or what decision you are taking.
it like multitasking but with certain risk.
Posted by:g.asokan - 26 Aug, 2009
2: Multi-tasking is not new to us. Multi-tasking is done in our day-to-day routine life as well. But in organizational parlance, multi-tasking is beneficial. Multi-taskers are considered more potential for the organization as engaging one employee for every task will lead to cost overruns and times overruns. By engaging multi-taskers and multi-skilled employees, organizations save both ways.
Posted by:Arun Kanth - 26 Aug, 2009
I agree. man by nature is enabled in engaging multiple tasks. In the context of organisation in is necessary to specify the multi-tasks under consideration and the people suitably trained or enabled with appropriate multi-skills would be more productive.
In certain situattions (or tasks )super specialisation or vertical specialisation would be necessary.
There is no contradiction in these categories of people.It is only a matter of whic people are trained for which type of tasks.
A soldier selected as a commondo will be trained to be multi-skilled. where as an infantry soldier's training need not be so rater he would be an expert in his own profession.
Cdr M Srinivas Rao Replied to: Arun Kanth - 26 Aug, 2009
4: Multitasking is a highly professional skill and it is essentially required for leaders to drive the system most effectively.
Posted by:vikas sharma - 26 Aug, 2009
Multitasking is a highly professional skill and it is essentially required for leaders to drive the system most effectively.

Doing one task at a time may help the individual to focus on the results for that particular task. But it may not help the organization in developing the leaders in the system.While concentrating on one task, one may ignore the importance of the other area of work which may be corelated or supporting to the task in hand.

Multitasking requires the day to day planning, setting up the priorities, ability to understand the avilable resources and its effective utilisation etc.If the multitasker is able to handle the multitasking in a effective way, it may help the organization to improve the productivity on all fronts.

I personally feel that the multitaskers can provide the leaders to the organization in a long run for its sustainable growth.

Posted by:Sadanand - 25 Aug, 2009
I believe that multitaskers think better than single task.They got good management skills which is essential to an organization.They too finish task as single taskers do.They can handle situations and succesfull.I am a multitasker.I perform same as single task do.
kiran Replied to: Sadanand - 25 Aug, 2009
7: In my view all human beings are Multitaskers.
For example now you are multitasking ie.,
(2)Looking at this content
(3)Thinking about it
(4)Srolling down mouse and so on...

How can you do at a time all these because you are habituated.
Therefore, Multitaskers can Multitask things they are habituated.

Posted by:Rakesh Raju - 25 Aug, 2009
8: "Multitasking is already blamed for car crashes as several countries"...when you drive a vehicle on the road in India you are Multitasking.
Multitasking is important and critical to operation within any organization be it official or personal.
The real question real problem arises when there is lack of visibility and lack of team work.
Posted by:Tathagat Banerjee - 25 Aug, 2009
9: You lose your concentration when you multitask, just as the article claims, multitasking is just not an ability.

Upto psychology, human mind can process 5 to 9 processes a time, and when one reduce the processes to one or closer to it, its called concentration. People who can process multiple things at a time must be a genius. Its true that everyone have an average of 7 processes going in mind, obviously we are not geniuses.

As far as Ii understand from my experiences, better to do one thing a a time, so that it can be finished in time and quality, then go to next. multitaking never yields excellence.
Posted by:Prasad C - 25 Aug, 2009
10: Multitasking is the need of some professionals like people who are in
managerial posts has to look after every works related to company
whether it is technical,advertisement,recruitment, marketing,human
resourceworks,etc.and this people are well tested of there
multitasking skills to get that job. That is why a student seeking
admission in management education is not only judged by his/her
academical skill but by his/her progress in co-curricular
activities,time management skills in exam as in a short time u have to
solve a lot of problems ,in which u have to leave sum less
scoring/time consuming questions, concentrate on main points in
comprehansion because they are to select best managers.And it is the
need of managers to be jack of all trades.This is different for a
person who is in research works.This feild will not require persons
who are good in multitasking but who are best in single tasking.they
have to be master of a single trade.So. good multitasking is a very
much needed for managers which include to concentrate on important
things and to have good management skills.
Posted by:Arunabh Mukherjee - 25 Aug, 2009
11: i think multitasking is based on their own interest and it is not a skill of them.......
Posted by:vvv - 25 Aug, 2009
Multitasker is having that skill. interest and skill are differ.
Meenakshi Replied to: vvv - 27 Aug, 2009
you only think a good multitasking in the office for your better performance and good result
uma Replied to: vvv - 25 Aug, 2009
14: Are multitaskers good at multitasking? Duhhh....
Posted by:sharath kumar - 25 Aug, 2009
The concept, scope and perspective of multitasking is one thing and the competency levels acquired in these tasks by a particular multitasker is another. Just like some people bungle up even only 1 or 2 tasks that them claim to be good at.
For example, I have known a typist with 10 years experience committing unacceptable level of errors whereas, a maintainer is merrily taking care of generator, water supply, building maintenance as also sports ground.
Cdr M Srinivas Rao Replied to: sharath kumar - 26 Aug, 2009
MULTITASKING is just happens as a need of the hour and its not a skill...its more an ability.

As a person grows professionally he also learns the skill of multitasking and survival..that how i would see it ...

A research and result on college students cannot be termed as a test for mulktitasking since people dont raise themselves unless there is a need to do it...

I feel that geting Students in to games...analtics and rocket science and ask them to multitask ..Is it the Joke of the day..?
Prince B George Replied to: sharath kumar - 25 Aug, 2009
17: For every company profitability is the most important fctor. I think that multitaskers can contribute to the profitability of the company directly by reducing the overhead costs.Hiring a candidate who has diversified knowledge in various areas is the need of the hour. A multitasker can analyse problems from different angles by performing different tasks and can be an important agent of information for the company. Therefore i think that this report lacks validity as te research is done in a very narrow sense.
Posted by:Supreet Kumar Das - 25 Aug, 2009
18: I m multitasking .... working on different platforms each time .... n thinks so that my profile is getting sucked ..... am I lossing my value in the industry ... got to think for that ...
Posted by:Manmay - 25 Aug, 2009
19: As its name denotes, multitasking involves several taks in same time. A multitasker giving importance to each task based on importance of each of the taks. If a person waching it from outside, he may feel the multitasker not giving proper attention to that particular task, but in fact, he is putting his effort to all the tasks at atime and giving importance to each of them on his calculation. An outlooker cannot say which is right and which is wrong. We all are doing multitaks in a way or another. So we can't agree with this report. (I have a single question: Report says, multitasker cannot give proper attention to all the work in same time and he will miss something or oter. If so, how an evaluator of this survey can evaluate all the tasks of a multitasker at a time? he also will miss something, right?, it means, the survey and its report is not at all agreeable)
Posted by:KGB Nair - 25 Aug, 2009
20: This is a stupid research data. Multi-taskers are more productive and highly creative and have high memory skills. They know which is to keep and which is to omit. In the coming years, more people will be go for multi-tasking.
Posted by:ajish - 25 Aug, 2009
Agree, people can do multitasking and can increase productivity of an organization. This report is irrelevant.
Ayush Kumar Replied to: ajish - 25 Aug, 2009
you are right but i am too a talented guy,i can handle different tasks at the same time,but nobody appreciates this tlent of mine.
vladimir Replied to: ajish - 25 Aug, 2009
The talents you are speaking (hope you got it) are not considered...
mutthu Replied to: vladimir - 25 Aug, 2009
ha ha ha.. i know you and your talents man
the internal spy Replied to: vladimir - 25 Aug, 2009
25: This rearch lacks a lot of parameters. It should specify the sexes, age groups, technical / non- tech, experienced on one or more activities tried out on them or not, Their Skillset in single tasks or multiple tasks, etc. Multitasking is an art which comes naturally, especially easy for women, whose mind is different from men. They can speak on the phone while cooking or brushin their hair, etc., at the same time.
Some areas common for both are like brushing your teeth while listening to music, polishing your shoes / pressing clothes, etc.
So it depends on what type of multitasking the reaserch is speaking about, and cannot be geeneralised.
Posted by:SHANKAR GURU CN - 24 Aug, 2009
26: multitasking helps a lot in doing work faster all one need is good presence of mind, once you come in habbit of utilizing ur brain in all directions you can cover each n every area without ignoring relevant information.
Posted by:Surbhi Kansal Saxena - 24 Aug, 2009
27: The survey in the silicon news, makes it sure that its not a fake or improper or invalid research.

But what i think about it is that:

the research is not based on the time factor
with the time any person can learn to be multitasker and multiskilled and can perform well.

but u have to be a singletasker first

multitasking is something related to our adaptability, and human beings are in the process of getting evolved as a multitasker.
Posted by:Gautam Dev - 24 Aug, 2009
and yes they are not good but with the time have tendency to do better

but risk is there
wich is obvious
Gautam Dev Replied to: Gautam Dev - 24 Aug, 2009
29: Multitasking is something which we do every minute in life and it is no great shakes and there is no special training involved in this. What I feel is that there is potential confusion here between multitasking and multiskilling. Multiskilling is a boon to any organisation which will help in developing a good skill matrix for the organisation and can develop into a good weapon to counter inevitable attrition.
Posted by:Saseendran - 24 Aug, 2009
yes i am agree
you gave me another perspective thanks
Gautam Dev Replied to: Saseendran - 24 Aug, 2009
31: multitasking works for me but it is also true that many times I miss the relevant ignore the relevanr information. What I think is that this all depends on the the state of mind of multitasker.
Posted by:Somit - 24 Aug, 2009
32: The multi task is essential element in the current trend. Need understand that multi tasking means not really doing two things at same time. One job at one time. At different levels of task -- Design, planning, manpower, critical decision calls, client requirements, limitations- these scenario- the multi tasking is very essential. Only the multi tasking person can able to take the calls and can able to meet the requirements.

Simple example - one job at a time. – when you are in home do the home requirements and look after family. On other hand if you are in office do the office requirements and meet client target. Doing the office work to home Or family matters to office is not advisable. Focus on the particular task and do the task with optimum resources.

Manjunath gs
Posted by:manjunth gs - 24 Aug, 2009
33: Multitasking works for me all the time. And why are we anyway concerned about a research conducted on foreign students. We are different :)
Posted by:Varun - 24 Aug, 2009
exactly correct varun...we r diff.
Anup Replied to: Varun - 24 Aug, 2009
35: agree with var
Posted by:blabla - 24 Aug, 2009
36: nothing like that exist
Posted by:srikanth - 24 Aug, 2009
37: To Multi Task or not to MultiTask?
Posted by:Krish - 24 Aug, 2009
To Multitask
Nasi Replied to: Krish - 24 Aug, 2009
No one can say that the multitaskers are are worst.. how it can say? They are the most invevitable part of every successful economy, they are the leaders. I think these researchers made big mistake in observing them.. Why only undergraduates took into consideration..?
sangeeth Replied to: Mani Kant - 26 Aug, 2009
why did u read this aticle then?
Prince Replied to: Alan - 25 Aug, 2009
I see general confusion here. Multitasking has been described here in a number of ways.
1. You can do a few things at the same time(moment). so, in a particular moment you may be replying to your email and chatting with a client over the phone. Many researches over the years have proven that it is not possible to concentrate on more than 2-3 items at a time. So much for multitasking. This reduces the quality of results if the tasks are let's say more complex. The researchers may have stumbled on this fact realized by me when I was in engineering college and we should not loose our sleep over this. Also, we must try to avoid this, unless it is for entertainment and other non-serious purposes(I can see some red faces, ok. getting entertained is also a serious purpose, all right):)
2. There is another more useful form of multitasking which may be practiced. I am a multitasker and I rely on this approach. What this assumes is that humans have a short attention span-half an hour to 1 hour max on an assignment. Ever wonder why we have half an hour to 45 mins classes in school. They are most effective. So, when I talk of multitasking, I talk of multitasking in a period rather than in a moment. So, when I develop computer programs, I work on one function, then when it gets too boring, start with another function, again get some ideas, and move to the first function. This way, I develop the two functions almost together, and able to finish all assignments before time. But, remember the rule of 2-3 tasks applies here too. Any unfinished task keeps getting processed in your brain, so you must not work on more than three assignments. If you have more split it for another day, and completely shut it off. This is the way to go.Now, as a practitioner, I must tell you of some pitfalls too. Sometimes, some tasks become more urgent, and you need to finish it first. In these cases, I complete that task reminding me that there are other two different tasks waiting, yum :). That helps focus.

Nishant Replied to: Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa - 25 Aug, 2009
U r rite that it depends on situaltion. Ask a site supervisor of construcytion site, ask a manager who is handling more than 10 customers. Ask a materials manager. These works need multi tasking.

Scientist do only one project at a time to concentrate better.

Doing one task is better but few tasks need optimisation of time. Multitasker are better in optimisation of time, not in perfection of work.

It is very simple with our education system. To pass a subject u need only 40 or 50 marks not 100 out of 100. In place of wasting ur one year in one subject to reach 100 out of 100. Just pass the subject and move on for next subject.

Mani Kant Replied to: web world guru - 24 Aug, 2009