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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Multitasking a killer of productivity

Late millennials like myself and, to an even greater degree, members of the so-called iGeneration, like to boast about their ability to multitask. Usually this consists entirely of meaningless or mind-rotting activities, including several forms of unproductive and less-than-intellectual uses of the Internet and/or video games, and superficial socializing over social networking. The there’s the decent use of time on things like homework, scholarship applications, etc.

This should not be something in which we take pride. I will admit that I too have at times succumbed to the glorification our generation has bestowed upon the ideal of doing as many time-wasters as possible, at once.

Even when this technique — this way of life, for some — is applied to important and praiseworthy activities, it is not the utilitarian choice.

A recent study performed at Stanford University suggests that multitasking is much less efficient than performing one task at a time. Researchers tested “heavy multitaskers” who claimed to be good at it and claimed that it boosts their performance. These people “were actually worse at multitasking than those who like to do a single thing at a time. The frequent multitaskers performed worse because they had more trouble organizing their thoughts and filtering out irrelevant information, and they were slower at switching from one task to another,” according to the study.

Maybe this quote from Forbes will convince you: “Research also shows that, in addition to slowing you down, multitasking lowers your IQ. A study at the University of London found that participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks experienced IQ score declines that were similar to what they’d expect if they had smoked marijuana or stayed up all night. IQ drops of 15 points for multitasking men lowered their scores to the average range of an 8-year-old child.”

When you multitask, you are lowering yourself to the cognitive level of a child, or someone who just took a few bong hits. App designers and advertisers want you to be easily distracted to consume as many of their products as possible; the more distracted you are, the richer they get.

If an app is so mind-numbing that you can successfully run it with a small fraction of your brainpower while also doing half a dozen other things, it probably isn’t a worthwhile use of your time. Try reading a decent novel while texting — it doesn’t work and you will immediately realize how absurd it is to be forsaking the book to text, update your status or check one of your social network accounts.

I made a tally of how many UA students I saw reading books — presumably an activity in which college students engage quite often — versus how many I saw on their phones during a period of about 30 to 40 minutes. The latter accounted for quite a few more students than the former.

The speed at which one can access information and interact with other people on the Internet surely plays a part in the transition in the way people think and behave. It is inevitable that this problem has developed.

The research is clear. Given the distraction-heavy environment in which we were raised, it is understandable that concentrating on one thing at a time might be difficult for some, but the benefits make it entirely worth the while.

Multitasking is not something of which one should be proud. Smart phones, social media and the increasingly omnipresent Internet are tempting distractions, but in the end, multitasking drastically reduces your productivity, increases the likelihood of errors in your work and makes you take 50 percent longer to complete a task. Take advantage of the dynamism of new technology, one thing at a time. It will make you much more productive and smarter.  

Follow Martin Forstrom on Twitter.

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