Multitasking: Fact or Fiction?

Job applicants often list multitasking as a skill on their resumes because they believe it looks impressive to hiring managers. But what does it mean to be proficient in multitasking? Does this mean having the ability to listen to music and answer emails while also working on a project?

According to the neuroscientist, Earl Miller, you and your applicants may not be as good at multitasking as you each think you are.

The misconception behind multitasking is that you are doing multiple tasks at once. In reality, you are switching your attention between tasks extremely quickly. The “executive system” of the brain is located in the frontal lobe and is responsible for this ability. It helps the brain focus on a task and achieve a goal by ignoring distractions.

There are plenty of circulating myths concerning the “benefits” of multitasking. We’ve all done it at some point, from checking emails during meetings to creating to-do lists while on the phone. Many however, don’t realize that multitasking isn’t as productive or helpful as it’s perceived to be, so we cleared up some of the myths for you.

Multitasking: Research Shows You’re Not As Good At It As You Think

Multitasking slows you downMyth 1: Multitasking Helps You Complete Tasks Quicker

The fact of the matter is that multitasking is actually slowing you down. According to the American Psychological Association and David Meyer, Ph.D., people lose time when switching between tasks. Meyer stated that humans are not able to do two cognitively complicated things at a time and the conflicts between the two can slow you down.

Meyer also stated that trying to complete two things at the same time can take 50 percent more time than doing one project at a time. Instead, save time by planning tasks out and completing them in batches. For example, block out a time to pay bills with no distractions. Once you complete that task, move on to the next one such as checking emails.

Myth 2: It’s Productive

Time is not the only thing you are wasting when you are multitasking. Meyer’s research shows that when you think you are trying to multitask, you are suffering a 40 percent loss in productivity. Multitasking leads to more mistakes as your brain is switching between tasks. If one or more of the activities you are working on involves extreme critical thinking, the risk of errors rises.

Multitasking harms creativityMyth 3: Multitasking Doesn’t Affect Creativity

When you’re doing two things at once you’re actually missing out on the obvious things taking place in front of your eyes. Multitasking uses your “working memory” or the temporary brain storage. Research from the University of Illinois at Chicago shows that when all of your temporary memory is used up, you lose some ability to think creatively. So in truth, multitasking hinders creativity.

Myth 4: It’s Helpful to Memory

Similar to the effect on creativity, doing two or more things at once means you are bound to miss important details of one or both activities. Think about when you try to read a book while watching television. At some point, you miss out on details of one or the other. Switching from one task to focus on another requires enough effort to disrupt short-term memory.

A quick fun fact about multitasking is that according to BBC, women are better at it than men. The reason behind this is that women are seemingly more organized under pressure, making switching between tasks easier and quicker. While women may be better at it than men, it does not mean they are not affected by it at all. Women still suffer from time, creativity, and memory loss during multitasking.

So, when the new applicant puts “multitasking” as a skill on their resume or you believe you can handle multiple tasks at once, remember these myths that go along with the illusive legend. Contrary to what most people believe, multitasking is not completing multiple tasks at once but instead switching between tasks extremely quickly. It is more productive to block out time for each task individually instead of trying to do all your tasks at once.

Hailey Johnson is a senior at LSU studying Mass Communication. If she is not binge watching Netflix, you can find her catching up on trending social media topics or day dreaming about traveling. She enjoys short walks on the beach and obsessing over pop culture.

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