In defence of multi-tasking

Multi-tasking gets a bad rap. And rightly so... mostly.

You've likely heard some of the damning evidence against multi-tasking. We now know that humans aren't actually capable of this without incurring some kind of cost to the tasks at hand. What multi-tasking really equates to is switching rapidly from one task to another, resulting in neither (or no) task being performed to the best of our ability. Multi-tasking has also been blamed for a decreasing attention span and a newfound inability to block out distractions.

This is what the overwhelming research tells us, and I don't deny it to be true. Most of us have probably done it on occasion and may have witnessed these effects ourselves. That said, there's a time and a place for multi-tasking. And when applied correctly,  it can help you push through the more mundane parts of your day.

Multi-tasking at it's best

As a general rule, any task that can be done "on auto-pilot" is a prime candidate for multi-tasking. However, this is providing you don't require the same senses to perform both tasks. Most successful multi-tasking combinations include one task that requires the attention of your eyes, and one task that requires the attention of your ears.

Here are a few task combinations that get my tick of approval. These will help you learn more every day, and help make some activities more exciting.

  • jogging and listening to podcasts.
  • housework and making phone calls.
  • writing/studying and listening to music.*
  • driving and listening to audio books.
  • eating and watching TED talks; movies; or doing just about anything else that doesn't require you to speak.
  • Listening to music is an especially good accompaniment to other tasks that don't require you to rely solely on your hearing. This is because it's processed, in part, by a different zone in your brain. So there's less cross-over than with most other activities competing for your attention.

    Pros and cons

    Hopefully you didn't just read this blog title and decide that driving while texting is a great idea. There are many times when multi-tasking is less than ideal. But that still leaves many scenarios where it can be a useful, practical and time-saving tactic. Don't be so quick to disregard the opportunity that may lie in combining simple visual tasks with simple auditory tasks. Ultimately, isn't cleaning your house more fun when you're chatting away to a friend? Aren't movies better with popcorn? Isn't being stuck in traffic more bearable when listening to your favourite podcast? And isn't dancing a hell of a lot more fun if you're playing your favourite song?

    I rest my case.