You probably often notice when people around can do two or more things at the same time. For instance, a man working on the computer, drinking coffee and listening to music; a woman singing the baby to sleep and reading a book; students surfing the Internet and using VK or Instagram at the lecture or Mr.Bean hurrying to the dentist. There are so many examples, in fact. We live that way every day and sometimes, in our busy living and rush, we do not recognize what is happening. But our ability to perform several things simultaneously has its own name multitasking. A majority of people tend to justify it by giving arguments like “it helps to save time” or “I can manage everything”. However, multitasking has a number of negative consequences. I myself became recently aware of this notion and realized that my weak productivity, slow academic progress and apathy, which sometimes I suffer from, are all the aftermath of multitasking. It is time now to identify this enemy and make a right decision!
The concept of multitasking is not a recent (as it turned out) phenomenon, but with the advent and development of new technologies like smartphones and tablets, it became an integral part of our life. Abate (2008) defines it as “an attempt by individuals to engage in several tasks in rapid linear succession (rather than simultaneously) where at least one of the tasks is a conceptual learning activity” (p. 8). It was long believed that multitasking is an extremely positive feature which helps us to improve our effectiveness, manage lots of things, especially those which are repetitive and simultaneous (Judd, 2012). And really, why not to check social networks while your professor is introducing a new material? Or do homework listening to music at the same time?
Not so fast. Multiple studies were conducted following the main question: is multitasking indeed a positive characteristic as it has been long considered? The study of Rubinstein, Meyer, & Poldrack (as cited in Abate, 2008) revealed that multitaskers are less productive comparing with people who can concentrate on doing just one thing because it is impossible for a human brain to perform two simultaneous things. So, when we multitask our brain has to switch quickly between the different tasks which consequently leads to the reduction of effectiveness and productivity. Multitasking also impedes the acquisition of knowledge since it creates redundant brain overload which hinders the working memory (Lee, Lin & Robertson, 2012). Moreover, “as multiple tasks are performed simultaneously, a cognitive bottleneck develops because of the limits of cognitive capabilities, and this results in an appreciable disruption in the decision-making process” (Lau, 2016, p. 287). A number of research studies were conducted on the theme of media multitasking and academic performance. For instance, Junco (2012) found that permanent usage of ICTs (Facebook and WhatsApp) during lessons has a negative impact on overall students’ GPA. Mayer and Moreno (as cited in Junco, 2012) have also revealed that “paying attention to Facebook or texting in class limits essential processing because energies focused on attending to these technologies cannot be focused on making sense of lecture material” (p. 2241). A study by Brasel & Gips (as cited in Judd, 2012) provides a good example of the prevalence of multitasking in the modern world: students and staff of one university who had simultaneous access to a computer and TV toggled between them more than 4 times per minute.
It can be seen therefore that multitasking indeed is not as good as it sounds. Having a number of negative consequences such as a poor productivity, cognitive overload, slow memorizing abilities, distraction and low academic performance, multitasking becomes a serious problem for all the people, especially for students. However, the decision of keeping on multitasking or not is only up to us. Perhaps it will take a lot of time to get rid of this habit and learn how to focus and concentrate, but it is really worth it. Because consequently you will start enjoying what you do and have a more meaningful, productive and happy life.
P.s. I also put a link to one good article in case you would like to know some tips for reducing the opportunities to multitask.
Abate, C.J. (2008). You say multitasking like it’s a good thing. Thought & Action, The NEA Higher Education Journal, pp. 7-14.
Lau, W.F.W. (2016). Effects of social media usage and social media multitasking on the academic performance of university students. Computers in Human Behavior, 68(2017), pp. 286-291. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2016.11.043
Lee, J, Lin, L, & Robertson, T. (2012). The impact of media multitasking on learning. Learning, Media and Technology, 37(1), pp. 94-104. DOI: 10.1080/17439884.2010.537664
Judd, T. (2012). Making sense of multitasking: key behaviours. Computers & Education, 63(2013), pp. 358–367.
Junco, R. (2012). In-class multitasking and academic performance. Computers in Human Behavior, 28, pp. 2236–2243.
Image credit: http://www.livescience.com/19983-multitaking-work-bad-feel-good.html