In an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education (“Divided Attention”), David Glenn examines some of recent scholarly findings about multitasking, including the work done by Clifford I. Nass, a professor of psychology at Stanford University.
“Heavy multitaskers are often extremely confident in their abilities,” says Nass. “But there’s evidence that those people are actually worse at multitasking than most people.”
Nass believes that multitaskers may be driven not only by the desire for new information, but by aversion to work they would rather not do. Whatever their drive, they’re not as good performance-wise as they tend to think. According to one study Nass led, self-identifying multitaskers performed much worse on cognitive and memory tasks than people who prefer to focus on single tasks.
In general, researchers have found that reasoning suffers when people are easily distracted and not able to focus their attention. Worse, perhaps, is that multitaskers are also less likely to retain what they’ve learned.
Got two jobs to do? Want them done well? Do one then the other. Or give the multitasking to your coworkers who prefer to focus on single tasks.