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What Does Multitasking Mean: the Myths, the Science, and the Solutions

Table of Contents

Introduction

The ability to complete multiple tasks at once is the ultimate superpower many university students dream of. Firstly, because they are under the illusion that they do not have enough time to get around to doing everything that they need to do. Secondly, there is never rest, there are assignments to be handed in, most of the students work and have to grade papers or rush off to stressful working environments straight from the exam room. It may even seem like 24 hours are not enough to constitute a full working day. However, in the pursuit of optimum output, students end up compromising on the quality of the work to achieve the quantitative targets. Because it is physically possible to perform multiple tasks at once, multitasking may seem like a good thing, however, one can never be optimally productive and see to every aspect of any one task if their attention is divided among multiple tasks.

Pre-assessment

“Ay yo! I’m just like my country I’m young scrappy and hungry, and I’m not throwing away my shot!”, this line from the Broadway hit musical Hamilton is the soundtrack to most of my assignments. At different times of the day, and depending on the task I am busy with, there is an appropriate Hamilton rap battle relevant to that setting, and without fail, I find myself singing along and acting out some of the scenes in my head while claiming to be busy with an important task.

Music may seem like a passive and complementary tool to aid the digesting of material when studying, however, a musical piece that is charged with literary content of its own demands some of one’s attention, hence multitasking may seem possible despite the clear problems presented by the division of attention. Every time I listen to Hamilton while working, I am essentially learning American history and whatever subject my assignment is for, all at once hence it becomes impossible to fully apply myself to either activity. Because of the volume of work I have to complete on a daily basis, there are three ‘resting periods’ in my day and most of them are deliberately made to coincide with meal times. I begin my day at 7am and start readings for the day, then have breakfast at 10am and this is the first break of the day that lasts 50 minutes, enough time to watch an episode of Sherlock Holmes while I eat. The next few hours are somewhat productive in the sense that I can get plenty of work done. However, they are not solely dedicated to any single task, but include reading and jotting down notes at the same time, with more music in the background and frequent trips to the kitchen/tea station. Most of the readings are on my smartphone and are done with a quick peep at my emails and text messages every now and then. This goes on until dinner time, where I eat while either continuing the readings, or watching an episode of The Big Bang Theory, to resume reading immediately after and begin drafting the assignment until bedtime. Scholarly article synopsis Multitasking is an integral part of our lives. We are constantly attending to multiple activities all at once to increase efficiency.

However, when focusing on multiple activities at once, our attention is divided and there is no fragmentation and interference in the way we receive, process and translate information from multiple sources, effectively decreasing the quality and quantity of the information.

The modern-day university learning experience incorporates technology into traditional teaching practices. As a result, classrooms are inundated with laptops. However, research shows that students who multitask on laptop and those physically around them have interrupted absorption of lecture content, thus scoring significantly lower than their non-multitasking counterparts.

Detail of plan for self-study

For the purpose of this assignment, I will dedicate a day to focus on one task at a time. On this day, I will dedicate a fixed time to do the readings for this and other assignments, then make notes after reading instead of while I read. Moreover, during the reading period I will be in the library where music is prohibited. Lastly, my breaks will be strictly for eating with no form of entertainment. As a result, I expect to take shorter breaks in a cafe where there is no way of watching any shows.

Lastly, I will refrain from using my cellphone during meetings, whether to communicate via text message or email, or to catch up on current affairs. Instead, I will dedicate thirty minutes in the morning to read the news headlines, emails, and weather updates. To ensure minimal distraction, I will disconnect my cellular service to prevent any phone calls and messages while in the library and in meetings.

Analysis

The biggest challenge I was faced with while refraining from multitasking was overcoming the overwhelming sense of slowness I felt. I began my day with a quick browse through the internet to read the day’s news headlines, check the weather update, and read and reply to my emails. Instead of immersing myself in readings immediately, I spent about thirty minutes planning my day and drawing up an hourly schedule to make sure I remained on track in terms of the activities I was meant to do today. I created reminders to accompany the schedule and tried to make it as accurate as possible. I later realized that this was a mistake as one of my meetings ran slightly over time, and I found myself tempted to continue using my phone as I was postponing the reminder for the next item on my calendar.

On the other hand, I was able to make excellent contributions in the meeting as I was fully present and engaged. In each of the day’s tasks, I was able to apply myself to the task at hand wholly, with no distraction, and this came through in the results. After tending to important meetings first early in the day, I began reading for this assignment. Because I was reading and not taking notes, I was more efficient, and I was able to finish reading the journal article on multitasking and attention division quickly, while also retaining maximum information without having to read the paper multiple times. Reading was followed by a note-taking period during which I was able to write done what I took away from the reading and surprisingly, my recollection of the information had not deteriorated, despite having skipped a day in between reading and beginning to draft this response piece. Neither activity was accompanied by Hamilton. The easiest task to do while refraining from multitasking was eating. Meal times were very quick and at no point was I bothered or even cognizant of the fact that I was not watching any of my favorite television shows. Moreover, even though I had my smartphone on me, I did not read any of the journal articles I was using to complete my assignments while I ate. Instead, I set aside the last five minutes of my lunch and dinner breaks to catch up on my emails and new headlines.

Reflection

After having taken this self-study, I can confidently say I no longer think multitasking is a good practice, especially for students and scholars. While I appreciate the fact that one can get more tasks done within a shorter period of time, I do not believe the output will be as valuable as work produced by solely focusing on one task at a time, there is a serious lack of focus and intention in the task and this shows in the end product especially if it is intellectual work like essay writing. Moreover, multitasking divides one’s attention across many activities, causing strains in the physical and mental capacity of the individual to perform to their level best.

Lastly, individuals who multitask often end up in the situation where they feel overwhelmed because of poor time management and planning skills. This vicious cycle of anxious overexertion continues with the illusion that there is not enough time to do one’s daily tasks.

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