Walking And Chewing Gum Multitasking Fact Or Fiction

Jun 09, 2010

Almost every hiring manager or recruiting firm, when posting a job description looks for a similar trait, “Ability to multitask.” This may be attributed to the digital age in which we live.


But do we really multitask?


Author Dave Crenshaw, The Myth of Multitasking: How "Doing It All" Gets Nothing Done, might describe the ability to walk and chew gum as “background tasking.” The idea of multitasking is nothing more than refocusing your attention from one task to another.


In her 2008 article in The New Atlantis, The Myth of Multitasking, Christine Rosen writes, “Used for decades to describe the parallel processing abilities of computers, multitasking is now shorthand for the human attempt to do simultaneously as many things as possible, as quickly as possible, preferably marshalling the power of as many technologies as possible.”  Among a number of research studies that she writes about, Rosen describes one study at Vanderbilt University. One of its conclusions was that a bottleneck occurs in the brain when it is forced to respond to several stimuli at once. As a result, task-switching leads to time lost as the brain determines which task to perform.


In a recent New York Times article, Your Brain on Computers: Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price, author Matt Richtel, writes, “While many people say multitasking makes them more productive, research shows otherwise. Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information, scientists say, and they experience more stress.” He cites a research study by Eyal Ophir at Stanford University on multitasking that concluded that multitaskers had trouble filtering out irrelevant information and that they were less efficient at juggling problems.


Are we becoming victims of information overload? Melina Uncapher, a neurobiologist on the Stanford team says that this idea was supported by more and more research. Richtel also mentions a study at the University of California, Irvine, which found that people interrupted by e-mail reported significantly increased stress compared with those who focused on the task at hand. Dr. Gary Small, a psychiatrist at the University of California, Los Angeles says that stress hormones have been shown to reduce short-term memory.


Rosen suggests that maybe we need to pay more attention to the task at hand and to exercise judgment about what objects are worthy of our attention. She offers a quote from Isaac Newton. When asked about his particular genius, he responded that if he had made any discoveries, it was “owing more to patient attention than to any other talent.”


If you need help with the information overload in your business, call Ed Baloga, New York based Partner with B2B CFO® at 914.474.9547 or via email at ebaloga@b2bcfo.com.



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