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The Downside to Multitasking

by on February 22, 2015

As busy librarians, we must learn to work with shrinking budgets, dwindling staff, and the fact that there are not enough hours in the day. Time seems to fly by, so we multitask to fit everything in. Our patrons do the same by studying on laptops while listening to music, checking Facebook, and the like. However, an interesting article on Mashable states that studies indicate multitasking is not good for our brains. Research suggests multitasking lowers productivity by 40%, and actually creates more errors and stress.[1] Yet the reason we still do it is that it gives the illusion of getting more work done.[2] I agree that multitasking is not always the best strategy. There are times when concentration and focus are required, and trying to do ten things simultaneously is counterproductive. Frost says the same applies to “media multitasking—or the consumption of several forms of media simultaneously,” which also has “negative social and physiological effects.”[3]

However, there are times where multitasking is inevitable. Howard Rheingold’s balanced opinion is this; “it’s not that multitasking is always bad. . .it’s that too few have learned and taught to others the skills we need. . .if we are to master the use of our attention. He goes on to state that  “a significant part of the population has not yet learned to decide when it is appropriate to share multiple lines of attention and when single focal point is necessary.”[4] We all have to multitask at some point, especially when working reference desks at peak hours. So how can we multitask without biting off more than we can chew?

This topic sparked a couple of my own ideas on how to multitask, though I am certainly no expert. I suggest we attempt the following: don’t overload yourself with an unreasonable amount of tasks at once and prioritize by importance. I also agree with Frost’s suggestion of making an old-fashioned to-do list, and parceling out work in set amounts of time.[5] And don’t forget about self-care, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed, pull back and take a break. Multitasking is unavoidable, but we need to ensure we don’t experience burnout in the process.

For further reading:

Multitasking—a medical and mental hazard by Patrick J. Skerrett

Works Cited:

[1] Aja Frost, “Why no one should multitask — and how I finally stopped,” Mashable, December 15, 2014, http://mashable.com/2014/12/15/how-to-stop-multitasking/ .

[2] Ibid.

[3] Aja Frost, “A Scientific Reason to Stick to One Device at a Time,” The Muse, October 25, 2014, https://www.themuse.com/advice/a-scientific-reason-to-stick-to-one-device-at-a-time?ref=search .

[4] Joyce Valenza, “Infotention and digital citizenship,” Never Ending Search (School Library Journal), July 8, 2012, http://blogs.slj.com/neverendingsearch/2012/07/08/infotention-and-digital-citizenship/ .

[5] Aja Frost, “Why no one should multitask.”


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