Multitasking: An ally of efficiency or an enemy of concentration and memory?

2 min

re.set - Training

There was a time when being able to multitask became a common desire, both personally and professionally. It was even promoted by organizations as a skill that would benefit performance.

However, the image of a person answering the phone while writing a report and gesticulating while responding to a colleague, so reminiscent of an American movie from the 80s, has gone from being an admirable goal to something to be avoided.

In a world in constant motion and with technology playing a central role in our lives, multitasking has become a term commonly associated with efficiency and productivity, but several studies have shown more harm than good in the absence of focus when performing a task.

We encourage you to put all of your concentration into reading this article, where we will debunk some of the myths of multitasking.

Myth 1: Those who have the ability to multitask are more productive.

 The idea that we can multitask is very appealing, but the evidence suggests that we’re not as good at it as we think we are. Instead of performing tasks simultaneously what we do is alternate rapidly between them. This may give the illusion of multitasking, but we are actually using our capacity to divide our attention.

Dividing attention between multiple tasks can result in a decrease in the quality of work and an increase in errors. Instead of becoming more efficient we often find ourselves wasting time by constantly switching between tasks, known as "context switching." This can lead to mental fatigue and a lack of concentration.

In a DASA article they report that according to Gerald Weinberg (Quality Software Management: Systems Thinking), there is a loss of about 20% of total time due to task switching. Therefore, fewer task changes lead to less wasted time.

Studies at Stanford University have shown that multitasking is less efficient than focusing on a single task at a time. Those who try to manage multiple streams of electronic information during their work tend to be less productive. Instead of multitasking competently, they’re more likely to perform everything poorly.

Studies suggest that those who engage in frequent multitasking may exhibit higher levels of impulsivity and be more likely to minimize the risks associated with tackling multiple tasks at the same time.

Best to leave the juggling and plate spinning to the pros and focus on not breaking the one dish you're using.

 Myth 2: We can train multitasking skills, let's go to the multitasking gym!

 No, leave the training for after work and certainly don't train multitasking.

Numerous studies have shown that multitasking hinders the ability to pay attention and remember information. When you try to do several things at once, your brain becomes overloaded and cannot process information optimally. This results in a greater likelihood of errors and decreased retention of information.

While multitasking is a skill that can be developed with practice, not all tasks are equally suited for it. Simple, routine tasks may be easier to combine (brushing your teeth while picking something up), while professional activities that require deep concentration and creative thinking are more susceptible to impairment due to divided attention.

A study published in the journal Nature revealed that performing two or more digital activities at the same time reduces attention and leads to short- and long-term memory lapses. Beware of watching TV while tweeting and checking emails. This multitasking generates a lapse of attention at the moment prior to recall, thus affecting the behavioral and neural signals of memory.

As if this were not enough, someone who is multitasking in a collective environment (looking at their cell phone while being talked to) denotes low social awareness, a very important skill for the development of some professional activities.

 Myth 3: Women are more capable of multitasking than men.

 Let's think carefully about who benefits from this myth that women are more capable of doing many things at the same time; after all, they’re "born multitasking". This myth normalizes seeing a woman working, looking at a computer with a phone in one hand, a feather duster in the other and a small child clutching her legs... The image says it all.

While some research has explored the differences in multitasking ability between genders, interindividual variability is much more relevant. The ability to multitask is a skill that varies widely from person to person, regardless of gender.

Where does this image of the octopus-woman capable of tackling a task with each tentacle come from?

In the 1990s Irwin Silverman and Marion Eals shared their hunter-gatherer theory, where men develop skills related to hunting and women to gathering and childcare, so the latter would genetically develop the ability to multitask. However, later studies affirm that the differences can be explained by training and learning rather than by a genetic program.

Women have historically borne a disproportionate burden of housework and caregiving, which may have contributed to the perception that they’re more capable of multitasking. However, this is more a matter of experience and adaptation to specific roles than an innate difference in multitasking ability.

 Myth 4: Multitasking is a super power.

 Sorry, this isn’t true either. In addition to everything mentioned above:  loss of time, loss of focus, memory problems and even the risk involved (for example when driving); neuropsychologist Theo Tsaousides warns of the mental overload it produces, so you end up doing all your work with lower quality.

 What should organizations do?

 Having said all this, it is true that some people have a more developed ability to simultaneously perform tasks without affecting their results or professional development. Our mission is to help you work better, so take note of some recommendations:

1- Organize your day, setting priorities and objectives.

2- Identify the task you need to focus on and concentrate on it instead of trying to do several tasks at a lower level.

3- Work on your concentration and boost your creativity with a conscious approach.

4- If you are saturated, take a break instead of jumping from one task to another.

In short, work on focused attention by prioritizing it over divided attention. If you’ve managed to read this whole article without checking the latest tik tok video, paying attention to a twitter notification or getting up from your chair, congratulations!

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