Are We Really Good at Multi-Tasking?

Oct 22

Are We Really Good at Multi-Tasking?

I always thought I could juggle four, five things at the same time, like most women. But is this really so? Are we as good as we think doing a number of things simultaneously and doing it well?

Last week, I was on the phone with a friend of mine while at the same time checking emails and responding to them, searching for information online about an article I needed to write, and fiddling with my digital recorder to delete a few old files to allow for more space. All was going smoothly when I realized at the precise moment I did so that I deleted a folder, not a file, on the recorder. An entire folder containing dozens of interviews. I stopped everything and went into panic mode. Hung up the phone, stopped mid-sentence in the email and quit Google.

I resolved my situation but got to thinking about the ADD-ness of multi-tasking. Yes, you can do it, but how well are you really performing everything? Was I really paying attention to every word my friend was saying? Was my email written in the way it would have been if that were the only thing I was doing? Was I finding everything I needed on the topic I was researching? We certainly know I wouldn’t have deleted a folder instead of a file if that were the only task I was performing.

So in this world of texting/talking on the phone while driving, “yes-ing” the kids while on the phone with a friend, eating dinner at a restaurant while the iphone or Blackberry is within reach to check tweets or texts, playing videos while doing homework, on and on, are we doing anything really well? Or are we just doing it well enough to get to the next thing?

Yes, there’s a lot going on in our lives and a limited time to get things done. Then there are all those devices and avenues for distraction. Yet think about it…are we really that more efficient, effective in what we’re doing when trying to do it all at the same time? Or has the bar been lowered so that we accept less as a way of moving on, plowing through? Are we really paying attention when having a conversation with someone while texting, tweeting, posting on FB? When did that become multi-tasking and not just plain rude? Are we learning anything? Just go to any business conference…you’ll see all the attendees on their smart phones tapping away as the speaker is vying for their attention.

I’m rethinking multi-tasking…perhaps it’s all just an illusion. What do you think?


  1. Thomas Plesser /

    The reality is we humans are not good multi taskers. Humans can only focus well at 1 or 2 tasks at a time. Attention to tasks suffer when we do to much at one time.

    This is the reason for banning texting and talking in cars. We cannot hold onto the information provided to us while we are do a task which requires a lot of attention. I know when I multitask, I sooner or later stop working on a task and lose my thoughts of that task I was doing.

    You blog entry is right on target. Well done!

  2. I will be the first to admit, I am a lousy multitasker. My wife makes fun of me and says that men can’t juggle, yada yada, and that we panic if we have too much on our plate at once. Which may be true, but I’m not sold that anyone can really do it all, and do it well. I think quality always takes a hit, and sometimes, well, we ‘delete a folder,’ or worse!
    In helping to raise our two sons, I try and stress to them all the time, you just cannot do your school work while the TV is on, AND they’re on Facebook, AND they’re texting their buds. It just can’t work, and ultimately it’s their schoolwork, not the other objects of their attention that take a hit.
    In my mind, focus on the task at hand. Do it and do it well, then next!

  3. Linda Schaffer /

    Wish I could think of what I was trying to say but I’m trying to pick out my outfit for tonight, watch my babysitter on you tube and listen to the wii game down stairs.

  4. and is any of this as enjoyable as it was in the past when we gave it more of our attention, or are we just checking them off our list as DONE and moving onto the next….

  5. Annie George /

    Spot on.

  6. I totally agree that the concentration required to really give someone your attention, say on the phone, suffers, when at the same time you’re checking e-mails or a text.
    I’ve been guilty of that and feel bad when I realize I’ve missed a minute of a friends conversation.

    Even eating for good health and mental clarity needs some concentration and actual chewing for the food to do you any good!

    My daughter in law and grandson were alone one night recently when the electricity went off. They played Indian flutes and sang songs instead of all the electronic noise and had a great night.

  7. Multi-tasking is a necessary evil in today’s world; our society is no longer built for sequential processing of anything. Just try to watch the news — you got the talking heads, the additional news feed via the crawl at the bottom, a breaking regional alert via the public broadcasting system — all in just a few minutes! Despite our hurry-up world, I have no doubt that all the things I’m doing simultaneously — and there are quite a bunch of ‘em — could be done much better if only I were focusing on each one at a time. Just now I cut away for 5 minutes to take a phone call, type some notes into a Word doc, pop a Life Saver, and look up a reference document. The only sure thing: doing everything now makes for one tired gal at the end of the day.

  8. You certainly have some agreeable opinions and views. Your blog provides a fresh look at the subject.

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