Multi-tasking, Not a Gift, but a Liability

Do you have friends who brag about their multi-tasking skills? Ever try having an important conversation with a colleague whose eyes never leave their computer screen? Well, Stanford researchers have shown that so-called multi-taskers are “actually more distractible and also performedlower on memory tests and ability to task-switch,” so next time go ahead and wait until they stop typing and look you in the eye.

This supports John Medina’s surprising statements in Brain Rules that “multi-tasking, when it comes to paying attention is a myth.” He says that “we are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously.” So, when we think we are paying attention to others while continuing whatever we are doing, we are actually switching back and forth between “several inputs one at a time.”

Rather than being more efficient than those of us who know we need to concentrate on one thing at a time, research actually shows that “multi-taskers” take 50% more time to finish what they are doing and “make up to 50 percent more errors.” (Brain Rules, 84-87)