Written By Keith B., Tutor Extrodinaire for Enhanced Prep
People for years have said that they can multitask. Why do we think that completing several things at the same time is a good practice?
Somehow, the concept of multitasking implies that you are saving time. I know that I have been guilty of making such claims.
Here’s a classic example: you choose to watch television while trying to accomplish some other task, such as paperwork, housework, or a solid workout. This may feel productive and even stimulating if you’re trying to gut through a ‘boring’ task like folding laundry.
However, you may also find yourself asking Where was I? when you return from one task to another. This is especially the case if one task requires more cognitive skills (paperwork) than another (watching T.V.).
In fact, what we popularly call ‘multitasking’ is actually ‘switchtasking.’ When ‘multitasking,’ your brain is really switching between several tasks over a given period of time. Dr. Nancy K. Napier Ph.D. came up with a little test that really demonstrates why this does not ultimately work in terms of function and efficiency. If you have the time, try it!
So, do students fall victim to the trap of multitasking or switchtasking?
A group of scientists explored this notion at the university level. They found that students taking notes using laptops and simultaneously completing an online task list were severely impacted. Compared to those students only taking notes on their laptops, the multitasking students actually scored lower when tested on the classroom material.
Another study by a professor at the University of California Irvine indicates that multitasking students may actually be more stressed. This study found that the more students multitasked while using their computers, the more stress they experienced. The constant bombardment of information to which they were trying to respond elevated their stress responses, which means that chronic multitasking can potentially lead to chronic stress.
What can you do to enjoy the perceived benefits of multitasking without multitasking?
Start by establishing steps for processing one task at a time.
For example, put your phone away, turn off messenger on your computer, and remove any other distractions (often digital) while doing homework/schoolwork. De-clutter space you dedicate to schoolwork to promote learning and further instill the conviction to focus on singular tasks.
If you catch yourself multitasking or switchtasking, make a conscious effort to complete one of these tasks before returning to another.
Another great area to practice working through one task at a time is in conversation. Try to converse with friends, family, and peers without letting your mind wander from the conversation topic at hand. This can further train your brain to prioritize one thing at a time.
If you’re still in need of motivation for a one-track way of working through things, here’s a great quote:
“There is time enough for everything, in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once; but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time.”