Multitasking Is Evil?

When I finally get down to business, interruptions infuriate me. I like to work and be completely focused on the task at hand and finish it and be done. Motherhood has thwarted me over and over. Motherhood is non-stop interruptions. But so is working online from home.

I’m writing and BAM! an IM. I’m IMing and BAM! and email. Basically, working on line from home, though better than being in a cubicle, can be just as frustrating. I’ll interrupt myself with a YouTube clip or a Twitter check or a Facebook update or an email to do. I have online ADD and it can make me crazy. Does it make me evil, too?

Bruce Weinstein, PhD, the EthicsGuy from Business Week says yes.

But then a funny thing happened: I noticed that the more things I could do with ease on my computer, the harder it was to focus on any one activity. My natural inclination to jump from one thing to another prematurely was now aided and abetted by technology–the very thing that was supposed to be helping me. Then, after the PDA and cell phone became a part of my daily life, I found myself, like millions of others, faced with even more interruptions, and it became increasingly difficult to concentrate. The technological advances that once seemed so liberating had become oppressive.

I came to realize that multitasking isn’t something to be proud of. In fact, it’s unethical, and good managers won’t do it themselves and will not require it of those they manage.

Here’s why multitasking is unethical.

When you multitask, you’re doing a lot of work, but you’re not doing most (or any) of it well. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that people who fired off e-mails while talking on the phone and watching YouTube videos did each activity less well than those who focused on one thing at a time. Psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell, author of CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! (Ballantine, 2006), puts it this way: “Multitasking is shifting focus from one task to another in rapid succession. It gives the illusion that we’re simultaneously tasking, but we’re really not. It’s like playing tennis with three balls.”

A friend of mine complained because when I IM’d I might be doing something else, too. “You’re not paying attention and you’re not doing anything very well.” When I’d write an incoherent sentence that was unrelated to the conversation, she’d complain. My brother and sister roll their eyes and say, “There she goes again” when I lose interest and start doing something else.

My multitasking is not only counter-productive, it’s rude. Holy cow! Multitasking is evil!

So how can I stop this? How can I ignore the Twitter updates, the IM ping, the email whoosh, the phone call, the text alert? I might miss something!

My solution is vicious deadlines. Deadlines freak me out and the potential of dropping a responsibility scares me. As for human relationships, I’m trying to be more focused and present when I engage. My attention span is so short….

Anyway, I think Bruce has a point. Multitasking–having too many things going simultaneously–means that nothing gets ones full attention. This is a problem. Something worth doing, is worth giving full energy to.

Technology can solve problems, but it has created some, too. The ability to have so many things going has made it so people pay less attention to things that matter most–usually that’s the people in their lives.

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