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There is no such thing as multitasking

People often think of performing multiple tasks simultaneously as multitasking. Perhaps you often find yourself taking on the phone to a client while sending an email to your boss and answering a colleague's question at the same time. You are the poster child of productivity in your Biloxi workplace. Or are you?

The problem is that multitasking, in the sense that we normally think of, does not actually exist. Researchers point to the concept of multitasking as a tool today's society uses to feel more efficient in what is generally a stressed environment.

True multitasking

In order to truly multitask, there are two conditions that must be present. First, you have to be so adept with at least one of the tasks that you do not have to put any thought or focus into it. Second, each task you are doing uses a different part of the brain to process it. For example, you might enjoy reading while listening to music. You can do both of these things effectively at the same time because these two tasks engage different parts of the brain. However, if you are listening to music with lyrics while reading, you may find that you are not retaining the material very effectively. This is because reading and listening to music with lyrics both activate the part of the brain that processes language.

Switch thinking

When you type that email, talk to a coworker and respond to a text message, you are actually "switch thinking," or "serial tasking." Instead of your brain processing all of these tasks at the same time, it is actually rapidly switching from one to another.

The research

The American Psychological Association considers our traditional idea of multitasking neither effective nor efficient. The research suggests that when we shift from one task to another in rapid succession, the process is actually not very fast, nor is the transition smooth. In reality, there is a bit of down time that the brain takes as it ends one task and starts another. This means that if a person is behind the wheel and decides to check a text message, the brain will stop processing the action of driving, take time to make the switch, process the text message, switch again and resume the act of driving. The time that the brain is in switch mode and processing the text message is more than enough to result in a car accident.

Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of serious car accidents. Unfortunately, most people believe the myth that they are multitasking and being efficient when they start checking their emails while driving to work. Instead, they are serial tasking and the brain is not always processing the driving task, even while the car is still moving forward. This leads to distracted driving and car accidents.

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