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Wednesday, March 3, 2010


My wife can hold three small children at the same time. She can make dinner, tell me to stop looking in the fridge for a snack and keep an ear open for the plaintive wail of a distressed child. She can listen to a podcast and play WoW or be in Second Life. She's a pretty impressive person.

But she can't multitask.

You can't either.

NPR has an interesting article on this. But I think, 'Perhaps I'm different. Perhaps I really can do multiple things at once.' If you're anything like me, I suggest you give yourself a practical test via the Multitask flash game. [NB: There are ads for webgames on this site. While I didn't notice any offensive ones when I hit the site, that does not rule out the possibility that they exist.] It took me all of about a minute before I realized that my constant switching in focus didn't cut it.

Businesses--I hear--have found this to be true as well. People are far more productive if they sit down and focus on a task. Unfortunately, the world of instant messaging, email, phones, Facebook, Twitter, RSS and the like make it difficult to stay on target. I know I get distracted when a message pops up telling me that I just got a new email.

I found it interesting, then, to read about a school that is excited that giving their students laptops "helps them multitask." I don't see how this would be a good thing. I heard that recent studies have found no benefits to trying to multitask.

Case in point: I know when my wife is multitasking while I'm on the phone with her. She's far less communicative if she's also checking Facebook or looking for a cool new app... she may be able to juggle a bunch of kids, but she still can't multitask.

Instead of encouraging your children to practice being distracted in the hopes that it will make them more prepared for the world of new media, encourage them to focus on a book or story and then switch their attention fully to the next subject at hand. This is a great skill to have when talking to people too: Give them your full attention.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Surrogate Father

P.S. Despite what I say above, I think it was great that my mom let us play quietly with Legos while she read to us. My sister sometimes doodled as well. There is something to be said for freeing children to focus on something other than merely "staying focused." So, perhaps--just perhaps--moderation is a good thing as well...


Kevin said...

I absolutely agree with you Luke! Multi-tasking has done more harm than good (generally speaking that is). To me, the greatest harm that it has done is it has made us rushed and busy people. We don't take the time to rest or to stop. Instead, we believe that we have to be doing 5 things at time in order to be "successful."

Contemplating Cadie said...

Luke, Luke, Luke!
When I first read the intro to this post on my dashboard I jumped on the chance to yell... "IT'S A MYTH!!!"
Boy, did you surprise me when you went on to say as much. For much of my life, I have felt inadequate in my womanhood because I knew that it was impossible for me to multitask. Now as I witness woman around me who take pride in this ability, I'm struck by what poor fruit it often bears. Not that my 'hyper-focusing' is the way to go either! Thanks for the insight!

Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

I think there are a rare few who are able to jump about in a chair, sing and hold an entire conversation whilst doing their math and getting it correct. Said rare people are also able to RUN and recite Bible verses at the same time.

Yep. Emperor can do all these things AND distract the people around him incessantly. I'm thinking the FBI will want him in a few years to wear down the people who are tough to interrogate.


The Hibbard Family said...

First of all, YES!!!! God has really been convicting me lately of my need to really and truly focus, even if there are times that I have to do multiple things at once. Secondly, I think we give multi-tasking a much broader definition than is appropriate. I don't see listening to reading while doodling or playing with Legos (or silly putty, as my kids do) as multi-tasking. Why? Because those things can be done with little mental input. They can use great mental input at times to produce creative results - but they don't have to. Multi-tasking involves trying to divide brain power to accomplish intentional productivity. So, I agree - we can't really and truly multi-task and have truly satisfactory results in all we do!

Michelle said...

I agree Luke - We can do several things at once, but we cannot truly multitask.

I read a great book on this topic called The Myth of Multitasking .

I wrote about it on my blog:

Thanks for the great reminder!

Luke Holzmann said...

I certainly feel rushed, Kevin. So I totally agree. <smile>

<smile> Glad I agree with you, Cotton. Wouldn't want to promoting a myth <smile>.

Mrs. C, you totally crack me up <laughing>. Hmm... perhaps there are some exceptions to this rule...

Great point, Ann! Totally.

Thanks for the link, Michelle! I didn't have time yesterday to hunt down all the great stories and studies out there on this topic.

Okay... confession time:

This post took me forever yesterday because I was trying to do several things while writing. Yep. Seriously. While writing about how multitasking is ineffective and not a good thing to do I was also doing a chat support session, fiddling with a printer and answering questions when people stopped by my cube.

True story. <smile>



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