Between programmed coffee machines, apps to turn on your car, and even programmed air conditioners, the effort to conserve time is all around us.
This is the goal of multitasking. Let’s delve a bit further.
What is Multitasking?
There are varying definitions of multitasking, and this is only one challenge to examine in determining if it’s genuinely productive.
Generally, people think of multitasking as performing several tasks at once. It can also be defined as “engaging in frequent switches between multiple tasks.”
These statements sound alike, but one is loosely described as several things being done at once, actively pursuing specific tasks while passively engaging in others. The other is defined as several things being done in a succession of time with small intervals in between.
Let’s say these are both considered valid. We can then consider alternative variables such as:
- Difficulty of task
- Time allotted for tasks
- Experience completing tasks at hand
- Varying priority levels of tasks
- Unexpected interferences or complications
Inconsistent variables make it a difficult concept to discuss what it means for each person. However, we can examine what happens to the brain when a person does perform the act of multitasking.
Variables and the Brain
There are two major parts of the brain associated with multitasking—the hippocampus and the striatum. The hippocampus is activated when we must actively process content or information. The striatum deals with procedural memory that allows us to perform everyday tasks passively.
Let’s say you’re talking on the phone and calculating the best price deals at the grocery store. Is it possible for these tasks to be done at the same time? While the answer is yes, it is important to consider not only if they are done, but how effectively they are done. Can you actively listen, mindfully respond to a person on the phone, process calculations accurately, and compare items all at once?
You’re facing the threat of missing a word or two on the phone, misunderstanding, or misspeaking. You may miscalculate or misread numbers or sales information, even if you’re only passively engaging on the phone. In this current state of mind: how much sleep you’ve had, noise level, and whether you’re affected by noise can all affect.
So, What Does This Mean for Productivity?
Again, we can observe that variables are essential. What was the significance or urgency of the phone conversation? Perhaps it was a friend in need of advice. Maybe it was a business call that requires filtering of speech. It could have been a quick call where you were checking in or catching up.
In calculating prices, perhaps cutting back on prices is not that important to you, perhaps there isn’t much of a price difference at all, or maybe you prefer certain brands.
Catching my drift, here? No matter what the tasks at hand are, what determines their productivity and effectiveness in multitasking comes down to individual variables concerning the tasks themselves.
So, in your experience: does multitasking work for you?