Nov 16, 2018 · by Vlad

Multitasking: A Good or Bad Thing to Do?

How Different Types of “Tasking” Can Affect Your Productivity

I started to write this article being so curious about this concept. What is multitasking? How can I multitask and expand my limits, in order to achieve high-quality results using this technique? Like most people, I consider myself a multitasker being able to do multiple things at a time, without much effort. This worked great for me up to a point when my idea of multitasking has changed in such way that I felt like I need to do something about this. I’ve done some research and I found out that some studies affirm that “There are only 2% of people on earth that can multitask effectively and the rest can multitask but with average results.” This statistic was something that changed my mind and raised some questions about quality versus quantity.  

Nowadays we gather information at lightning speed; we are so used to doing multiple things at the same time and we learn as much as we can in 24 hours. For instance, people are accustomed to driving and sending text messages or to making breakfast and listening to music at the same time. The thing is that, even though both examples may be similar, they are not; the first one is “multitasking” (and is a very dangerous thing to do), while the second one is “background tasking,” or something that can run in the background while you are doing a specific task.

I will try my best to explain some of the tasking types I have found over the course of several weeks and I’ll let you decide if “multitasking” is a useful thing to do or not.

THE HUMAN BRAIN
First, let me share something about how I think our brains work and why I think they work very similarly to a super-computer. We are capable to do multiple tasks at the same time without too much effort (e.g., writing an article while listening to your favorite song). In theory this sounds good but in reality it’s not. Yes, we can do more than two things at once but we won’t complete all of them at the same time. And this is not taking into consideration possible distractions, social media, people around us or even a phone call.

It’s easy to be distracted while doing multiple things at the same time. I’m sure that you have at least four tabs opened and pinned on your web browser and maybe two monitors at work, a standard setup used on our day-to-day jobs. The thing is that no matter how many tabs you have open, your focus is only on one tab at a time.


Let me give you an example:

You have to write an email with the information from a specific ticket/bug/document. Normally you would be using two tabs, one on each monitor, and you would switch your focus between them in order to complete this task alone. Now, things get more tricky if you have to do that while paying attention to a colleague who is asking for help or to reply to a message that may pop up. This is a common case in our industry and most of you will say that this is an easy thing to do. I agree with you, but this doesn’t mean that you aren’t opening yourself up to possible errors.

You can chose to “multitask” or just do only one thing at a time, it’s your choice.

Psychologists have demonstrated that we are able to keep only about five to nine pieces of information in our mind at a time. We’ve all had the experience of looking up a phone number, then being distracted before dialing and forgetting the number in a matter of seconds. What is happening is that new information is bumping out older information before your mind can hold the older information for long-term storage in your memory.

In general, short-term memory can hold items fairly well for the first few seconds. After about twelve seconds, however, recall is poor, and after twenty seconds, the information will disappear entirely, unless you keep repeating it to yourself or write it down. Writing signals your brain that this piece of information is more crucial than others and should be stored in your long-term memory. Personally, I use this knowledge to my advantage by making a “to do” list every morning and then just checking each line after that specific task is done. If you want to test yourself, just make a short list of easy tasks every morning and see if you manage to increase your productivity before lunchtime.

TYPES OF TASKING
Now let’s focus on the type of tasking that I found so far. I’m sure there are other examples out there, but these are the ones that caught up my attention. Feel free to explore other paths.

Multitasking:

The human ability to perform more than one task or activity at the same time. An example of multitasking is checking your emails while talking on a phone.

Background-Tasking:

One useful type of task that can be beneficial in some cases if used correctly. An example of background tasking is preparing your breakfast while listening to music. Studies have shown that certain types of music can enhance people’s focus if done correctly.

Hyper-Tasking:

Extending multitasking limits while doing way too many tasks at the same time, trying to catch up with past work being pressed by time. An example of hyper-tasking is working on a laptop, drinking coffee, and talking with a friend while trying to reply to an email.

Switch-Tasking

The ability to switch between two tasks by focusing the attention back and forth, creating the illusion that we are doing things simultaneously. An example of switch-tasking is writing an email while trying to answer some questions from an internal chat room (let’s say Hipchat, for example).

Single-Tasking

By definition, single-tasking is the practice of focusing on a single task or activity without distractions. To be able to do this you need to prioritize your tasks and complete them one by one. Time management is an important factor here. An example of single-asking is focusing on writing a test suite from start to finish after you gather the information required to do that from a specific document.

SO, WHAT’S THE CONCLUSION?

I’m sure there are other types of tasks out there that I need to discover, study, try and test out in order to extend my productivity and performance. But in the end, every individual is different, so I leave it to you to decide if multitasking is a good or a bad thing to do in your day-to-day life. Feel free to submit some feedback below about your thoughts on this topic.

If you would like to test your focus, hand-eye coordination and other skills, I’ve prepared a simple game for you. Just click here and test to see if you are paying attention while playing a game for the first time. (About the game: get the crystal in time, watch out for possible enemies and check how you did afterwards). Have fun and stay sharp!

Vlad

Vlad

QC Engineer
Vlad has been working as a QC engineer since 2015 and is based in Softvision’s Cluj-Napoca Studio. He is passionate about technology, magic and gaming, and is interested in personal development techniques.
Vlad

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