I know multitasking leads to distraction, and that many people engaging it become less productive (email-to-Twitter-to-work frenzy), or even less safe (texting and driving). But not me. I’m actually great at multitasking! That’s why I have like 25 tabs open in my browser at any one time, or why I check my phone at red lights. Or at least that’s what I could justify telling myself until I read about a new study that finds that even people who think they’re great at multitasking are often absolutely terrible at it. Put your phone down and read on.
Here’s the lede from PscyhCentral:
A new study finds that those who believe they can multitask effectively are wrong and, in fact, they are often bad at it.
Okey dokey then! Go on.
Specifically, University of Utah researchers discovered that people who multitask the most – including talking on a cell phone while driving – are least capable of doing so.
The people who multitask the most – hold on, a new Twitter reply just popped up – are just as likely – snack time! – as anybody else – ooh, gotta finish that New York Times magazine article I started earlier – to be terrible at it. As coauthor David Strayer sums it up, “The people who are most likely to multitask harbor the illusion they are better than average at it, when in fact they are no better than average and often worse.”
Researchers performed a variety of tests on 310 undergrads, measuring factors including their multitasking skills, their perception of their own abilities, their cell phone use while driving, and personality traits like impulsivity and sensation-seeking. They found that the people who were best at multitasking were those with the ability to focus on the task at hand. That, of course, makes them the least likely to, you know, actually attempt to multitask. Hilariously, 70% of participants in the study said they were above average at multitasking, which PsychCentral wryly points out “is statistically impossible.”
The study focused on people who use their cell phones while driving, but the implications for work life seem clear. If you’re dumb enough to try multitasking, you’re not smart enough to do it well.