Does Multitasking Hurt Productivity?

Written by Darren Hewer

Is multi-tasking hurting your productivity? Multi-tasking sounds great in theory: By doing several tasks simultaneously you save time and get things done more effectively … right?

The BBC reports:

Indeed, media multi-tasking sounds, at first glance, like a boon for productivity. If we can do two things at once, we can do twice the amount in the same length of time, or the same amount in half the time. Either way, it’s a nifty trick. But it’s not quite as simple as that, as my frustrating evening demonstrated. A raft of studies has found that, actually, multi-tasking is a good way to do several things badly.

For example, studies by Gloria Mark, professor of informatics at the University of California, have found that when people are continually distracted from one task, they work faster but produce less. Another found that students solving a maths puzzle took 40% longer – and suffered more stress – when they were made to multi-task.

As I wrote this post, I was listening to music. I was also interrupted several times as I attempted to multitask or otherwise got sidetracked. I responded to messages via instant messaging, email, AND texted messages to my phone! All of these things ironically distracted me from writing this post. I’ve also noticed that while I used to sit and read a good book for hours, now after about a half hour I start getting restless. Is this a product of age, or of the increased pace and multi-tasking of our daily environments?

There is another interesting comment made in the article: “Philosopher Damon Young, author of [the book] Distraction, says that we’ve become habituated to checking e-mails and texts, and turn towards the “safe novelty” of Facebook rather than the important but tricky stuff of real life.” Texting is now supposedly being the preferred communication method for 12-17 year olds. Is the “safe novelty” of this sort of multi-tasking distracting us even from the “tricky stuff” of real life relationships because its easier?

Do you think multi-tasking helps or hinders your productivity? What about your relationships? If you’ve been realizing lately that you need to focus more on your relationship with your significant other, children, or other important people in your life, but aren’t sure how, you can always contact a mentor to talk about it.

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