I’ve learned that multitasking is unnecessary, unproductive, and sometimes dangerous. For a long time I bought into fallacy that it was possible for me to do more than one thing at a time and not have either task suffer. However I have come to realize that the possible benefits of multitasking are not worth the cost.
When mobile GPS devices became popular a few years ago I was fascinated by the capability of being able to navigate unfamiliar roads confidently and efficiently. I purchased one of the early generation Magellan GPS models with all of the bells and whistles and I enthusiastically took off on a road trip.
One thing that I had not counted on was the amount of button pushing and screen navigation required to operate the GPS properly. Who has time to read a thick manual full of directions on how to operate a GPS? Not me! I mastered the basics features and off I had gone on my voyage.
On one particular leg of my journey I decided that I wanted to change the destination that I had previously programmed into the GPS. I attempted to do this while I was driving and much to my surprise I became quite a moving road hazard.
I discovered that attempting to program my new destination into the device required a considerable amount of concentration. As I punched buttons and touched the screen I glanced up at the road only to realize that I was crossing the lane divider. A quick swerve got me back into my lane, but it dawned on me that this kind of multitasking was putting me and everyone else on the road in danger. I left the GPS alone and took the next highway exit in order to pull over and program the device properly.
The term “multitasking” originated in the computer engineering industry and refers to the apparent ability of microprocessors to process several tasks simultaneously. But human beings are not computers. Psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell has gone so far as to describe multitasking as a “mythical activity in which people believe they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously as effectively as one.”
"People can't multitask very well, and when people say they can, they're deluding themselves," said neuroscientist Earl Miller. "The brain is very good at deluding itself." Miller, a Picower professor of neuroscience at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) , says that for the most part, we simply can't focus on more than one thing at a time. What we can do, he said, is shift our focus from one thing to the next with astonishing speed.
OK, so I was not really multitasking. But it made me think about my motivation for programming my GPS while driving, which was mainly to save time. Saving time can cost lives when multitasking while driving. Use of cell phones or texting while driving has been highly correlated with traffic accidents leading many states to outlaw their use behind the wheel.
Beyond the obvious hazards of multitasking while driving I’ve learned a real appreciation for the ability to block out distractions and to be able to give my full attention to one task at a time. With all of the electronic devices at our disposal, the need and ability for us to focus our concentration is constantly challenged.
People are not as good at doing two things simultaneously as well as they can perform a single task, contrary to popular belief. While a little time might be saved by multitasking errors mount, stress increases, and efficiency plummets. The penalties of multitasking far outweigh the benefits. Do not get trapped into multitasking because “everyone’s doing it”. Everyone is not doing it well, and it’s not worth the cost.