Monday, October 5, 2009

Studies on multitasking missing the point...

A few weeks back I starred this article on my google reader. I actually found it interesting because I have been known to multitask (depending on whom you ask you may find me to be a heavy multitasker or a mild multitasker).

I found a few quotes necessitated expansion:

Perhaps what we are doing [multitasking] has nothing to do with efficiency. I don't operate the way I do with the principal goal of speeding things up. My motivations are much more complex and diffused.
[...] I am not trying to speed up how quickly I shift from one thing to another. Instead, I am involved in a stream of activities, in which other people figure prominently, either synchronously through direct discussion (a la Twitter or IM) or indirectly, through their writings and my responses

In many cases, I leave activities dangling because I don't know exactly how I feel about them. In some cases, I could resolve my feelings and take some action if I simply stopped other activities and focused solely on that activity, but in most cases that is not the case. And simply forcing myself to focus on the next thing in the activity would not lead to an acceptable or beneficial result, necessarily.

I'll stop with the quotes here so you can go read the rest ;-)

I actually found this quite intriguing. Unlike a computer that multitasks, we don't always multitask because we want to be more efficient. We multitask because we want to be in multiple activity streams - that is certainly why I multitask. If I want to really finish reading an article, or if I really want to get my term paper done, I don't multitask. I do take some mental break to check on facebook or twitter, or look at the TV guide, but I don't multitask.

Conversely, when the activities on hand aren't mission critical, and I can take my time with them, I do multitask, I do have 10 tabs open, with five different blogs and my email going. The idea there is that you are picking off what is the most interesting thing, working on that, and then moving on - or if the task doesn't hold your interest you move onto something that does.

Forcing yourself to plow through a book or article or movie that you don't enjoy just for the sake of claiming some sort of stoic or zen ability to focus on a task that isn't as interesting at that point in time does seem pretty useless to me.

What it comes back to, for me, is the "Ws" of the study.
Why are you doing the study?
What are you hoping to find out
What perspective are you approaching this from?
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