Multi-tasking is like living at half attention.
"It's OK if it involves things that you do routinely in your life," said Chris Perrow, a professional organizer and president of Perrow Systems in Stow, Ohio. "If you are making dinner, talking on the phone and wiping down the counter, it is multi-tasking at its best.
"When it becomes an issue is when it involves deeper cognitive thinking," she said. "That would be your reading and responding to e-mail, hearing and listening to voice mail and working on a project."
|DOING IT ALL - When you try to do two things at once, you end up doing both half as well, experts say. CNS Illustration by Eri Hashimoto. |
These things require some cognitive thought, she explained. She said that while it may seem routine to read e-mail, but if you are not paying attention, you might as well be twiddling your thumbs for 20 minutes because you accomplish nothing.
"If you are continually moving from cognitive task to cognitive task, you can do it, but research will show it will take you twice as long," said Perrow, who, in addition to owning her own business also is a facilitator and trainer for Kent State University Stark Campus' Office of Corporate and Community Services.
Perrow said the University of Michigan did research regarding multi-tasking and found that an individual who checked e-mail while working on a project took much longer to complete the task because of going back and forth between the two. When the person took the time to do both tasks separately, it took half the time.
The American Psychological Association reports that whether people bounce between browsing the Web and using other computer programs, talk on cell phones while driving, or pilot jumbo jets while monitoring air traffic, they are establishing priorities among tasks and allocating the mind's resources to them.
While it may seem more efficient on the surface, research shows that a mere half second of time lost to task switching can mean the difference between life and death.
The report uses the example of a driver using a cell phone. During the time the car is not totally under control by the driver, it can travel far enough to crash into obstacles the driver might have otherwise avoided if not using the phone.
GOOD AND BAD
"It (multi-tasking) is fine to do sometimes, but if you always do it, you are not really connecting with what you do," said Penelope Trunk, a columnist with the Boston Globe and Yahoo Finance, and author of the book "Brazen Careerist: the new rules for Success" due out in May by Warner Books.
Another problem with multi-tasking are mistakes.
"Multi-tasking has been shown to be slower than doing each thing separately because of all the mistakes we make and the extra time we take to think," Trunk said.
We cannot do everything that we, our employer and society thinks we can do, said Perrow, noting that it is important to prioritize and have a very specific beginning and end to tasks.
"There are some things you can do at the same time, and there are some things you do that require a little intentional attention," she said. Following a recipe, she explained, might take some deliberate attention at first, but once you get over the hardest part, you can start multi-tasking again until you come to the next step that will require your attentiveness.
"Multi-tasking has become a part of our lives, but I think it is a word that expands too many horizons," Perrow said. "You can plug in the vacuum and put food down for the dog without any problems because these things come naturally. If you are doing something that takes cognitive functioning, you have to pay attention so you can get it done. If you don't you will force your brain to jump back and forth, thinking, and our brain does not do that well."
Copley News Service