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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Think You Are Good At Multi Tasking? Think Again!

Many employees try to juggle several tasks at the same time – jumping back and forth from email messages to working an open project on the computer to answering phone calls. A recent study of college students reveals that multi-tasking may actually lower productivity.

Researchers at Stanford University studied 262 college undergraduates and found that students who regularly used various media at once were not very skilled at tests of memory, attention, or "task-switching." The results surprised researchers who had expected to find an innate ability in multi-taskers that made them skilled at handling multiple tasks at once.The participants first filled out questionnaires on their media use – how often they went online, watched television, read, listened to music, emailed and text-messaged, and how often they did a few of those activities at the same time. Based on these responses, the researchers classified the participants as heavy or light media multi-taskers and then put them through a series of cognitive tests.The test results suggest that heavy multi-taskers are not actually good at juggling numerous activities. They scored lower than those classified as light multi-taskers on filtering out irrelevant distractions, on organizing and filing away information, and on shifting their attention from one task to another.

Commentary: The results of this study cast doubt on the wisdom of using technology to jump around between tasks. Of course, there are times that interruptions are unavoidable, but employees may find it beneficial to stop answering emails and phone calls when working on a project requiring close attention. Efficiency experts have suggested that setting aside particular times of the day to answer emails and to respond to phone calls is an effective time management tool. Constant access to the Internet, telephone and other media may hurt rather than help productivity.

Amy Norton, "'Multi-taskers' are bad at one thing: multi-tasking," (Aug. 24, 2009)Amy Norton, "'Multi-taskers' are bad at one thing: multi-tasking," (Aug. 24, 2009)

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