A lot of people describe themselves as “multi-taskers.” Doing several tasks at the same time would seem to save precious currency: Time. But does the quality of the end product suffer? It depends. It seems to me that it boils down to questions of productivity and in some cases, safety.
Elementary schools in our school district hold annual science fairs. I find it stimulating to see how creative children can be when their ideas are supported. A study by a fifth grade girl was outstanding.
Her research question: Does text messaging interfere with safe driving by high school students. The way she approached this question was to have volunteers play a video game in which “drivers” avoided obstacles. Participants ran the course without distractions, and then they repeated the test while sending a scripted message on a hand held device to simulate multi-tasking.
What results would you have predicted?
The study found that teenage reaction times were 2-3 fold slower and the probability of “accidents” increased by more than 4 fold when multi-tasking. Granted, the study was limited to a small sample of high school students, nonetheless it confirms other reports of the dangers of texting while driving.
Rubenstein, Evans and Meyer reported as long ago as 2001 that simultaneously performing demanding tasks can reduce workers’ productivity by 40 percent or more.
Research in this area seems to indicate that individuals may be able to tackle two routine activities that do not require a lot of brain power and complete them reasonably well. However, for successful completion of important projects, "sequential tasking" may be the wiser choice.
In writing this blog, I give it most of my attention. When it’s done, I move on to the next task. Productivity and quality of work are not compromised when I also converse with my partner, track emails, and make myself a cup of tea. I think of myself as a "multi-tasker" even though I'm a "sequential tasker" when it comes down to it.
Do you consider yourself to be a multi-tasker or a sequential tasker? Have you assessed your productivity and the quality of final products or activities when multi-tasking or sequential tasking?
I’d love to hear your view on this issue.