Multitasking doesn’t work, studies show


A paper is due tomorrow, along with two different assignments, the boss needs a report done today and roommates want to go to the movies.

Time to multitask.

Rachel Quinn, a junior athletic training major from Phoenix, said she, like most other students, is no stranger to multitasking.

“I’ve talked on the phone while driving, I’ve written a paper during a whole class period,” Quinn said.

Dave Crenshaw, a BYU alumnus and self-proclaimed CEO coach, authored “The Myth of Multitasking.” He said our brains are not actually physically capable of handling multiple active tasks at the same time. Active tasks require attention. He said there are two types of multitasking: switch-tasking and background-tasking.

“Background tasking is where something mindless or mundane is happening in the background, that would be like running on the treadmill while you’re watching TV,” Crenshaw said. “That’s not really multitasking.”

He said in contrast, switch-tasking involves more active tasks like driving while talking on the cell phone or surfing the Internet while listening to a lecture. When we do two active tasks simultaneously, Crenshaw said, our brain under-performs because it is actually switching rapidly between tasks. Crenshaw said every switch incurs a switching cost, which equals lost time and effort. Switching costs create undesirable effects.

“Things take longer, you make more mistakes, your stress levels increase and you damage relationships,” Crenshaw said.

According to a study by professors Jason Watson and David Strayer of the University of Utah, most of the population cannot handle two active tasks at the same time. Of the people studied, 97.5 percent were unable to effectively multitask.

Since most people aren’t able to effectively multitask, Crenshaw offers some ideas on how to control a multitasking habit.

“Create times of the day or situations in which you’ll always turn off digital media,” Crenshaw said. “We don’t need to go back to the dark ages, but we do need to create boundaries for ourselves. Have a set time and a set place to do things with technology.”

Crenshaw also suggested turning off text message notifications, because it creates unexpected switching costs. He said if students make an effort to stop multitasking they can expect to get homework done faster, do better on tests, feel less stressed out and have better relationships.

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