Multitasking: Friend or Foe to Productivity ?

Let’s talk about “multitasking,” or the art of doing multiple things at once. While some people are simply unable to do so, others excel at it. The question is, does juggling multiple tasks at once really help you be more productive?

The art of multitasking

Imagine answering the phone while working on a presentation and looking at multiple web pages at once…We have all multi-tasked at some point or another! According the American Psychological Association(APA),, which studied the subject, there are three kinds of multitasking:

  • The first is the most common, and involves performing two tasks at once.
  • The second is when one interrupts one task for another.
  • Last but not least, the third involves performing multiple tasks in succession. Our brains need time to switch gears, and properly dive into new tasks. This means it can’t effectively accomplish multiple tasks as quickly without affecting productivity.

Think you’re a multitasker? Well think again!

A 2013 study by the Public Library Of Science (PLOS) ed by 4 researchers from the university of Utah, showed that people who think they are capable of juggling multiple tasks are in fact the least capable of doing so. Paradoxically, those who are actually gifted with the ability are the least inclined to use it, and prefer to do one thing at a time. That being said, the number of real multitaskers is still a minor one.David Strayer, one of the study’s authors, a said in the New-Yorker that just 2% of the population was really skilled at multitasking.

Le multitasking costs us productivity

For most people, multitasking only has a few benefits. In fact, it’s inconvenient. According to David Meyer, psychology professor at the University of Michigan, juggling multiple tasks actually makes us 40% less productive!

An article published in the Chicago Tribune entitled, “Multitasking makes us a little dumber,” » cites one study by the Psychiatric Institute of London, arguing that switching from one digital task to another actually lowers one’s IQ more than smoking pot!

multitasking and productivity

“Our brains aren’t designed to do two tasks at once”

In the end, it isn’t surprising that our brain can’t accomplish two tasks at once when they require one’s attention. Caroline Huron, French psychiatrist and cognitive sciences researcher at INSERM, proves it. During one TED talk, she tells her audience to watch a video in which two teams (one white and one black) play basketball. The first time they watch it, she asks the audience to count the number of passes made by the players in white. The second time around, to simply not count. The audience laughs: a man disguised as a gorilla appears in the middle of the screen, and because they were so focused on counting passes, most of the audience missed his presence the first time. According to Huron, “This experiment shows that our brain isn’t made for performing two tasks at the same time, especially if each requires attention. It only takes one. This biological constraint on our brain function, is invisible, and we rarely notice it, even though it is present in our daily lives.”.

Towards smarter multitasking

So, does one really need to become a uni-tasker to preserve productivity? Yes and No. As Kat Boogaard explains in an article published on Trello’s blog site, , studies against multitasking are often based on task switching, in other words, juggling multiple tasks.

However, multitasking in the strictest sense, (accomplishing two tasks at once), isn’t necessarily a bad thing for productivity every time. A 2015 University of Florida study showed that it could even enhance performance. Be warned however, this applies to just a few cases. Mais attention, uniquement dans certaines circonstances ! In the end, to really gain in productivity by multitasking, one must carry out tasks that don’t require the same parts of our brain and thus don’t activate the same cognitive resources.

Are you good at multitasking? Tell us about it!

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