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Are We Addicted to Multitasking?

By Tiffany Monhollon

Last week at Get Ready to Live, a small unconference that happened alongside SXSW in Austin, Scott Stratten shared some great nuggets on emotional currency and how to deal with all the demands on your personal bandwidth - from approaching projects to handling haters. One of his more popular “speak-by-tweet” nuggets was that “Multitasking isn’t a talent, it’s a detriment,” as captured by Jay Baer.

Scott’s challenge? To work one screen open at a time, wholly focused on just the task at hand.

A noble goal, to be sure. But for today’s professional, do we even know how to work without multitasking?

An interesting debate, especially since research continues to show some interesting things about the realities of multitasking:

What do you think?

Share your thoughts in the comments!
Infographic courtesy of Rasmussen College. Read more great insights from Get Ready to Live on the archived Tweet stream.

By Tiffany Monhollon | March 24, 2011

Topics: Business, Career, Productivity, Uncategorized, Work |

9 Responses to “Are We Addicted to Multitasking?”

  1. Sarah Tiambeng Says:
    March 25th, 2011 at 12:41 am

    Hi Tiffany,

    Excellent post! Lately I’ve been thinking about this issue because I’ve noticed the quality of my writing taking a hit because of multitasking.

    As a PR person, I’m sure you know that it’s impossible not to multitask. I think the key is knowing which projects deserve more attention. Since I am concerned about the quality of my writing, I’ve really noted which assignments deserve my full attention and my best work and since then I feel better about what I’m submitting and actually knock things off my list sooner!


  2. Tiffany Monhollon Says:
    March 25th, 2011 at 2:50 am

    Hey, Sarah!
    Thanks! I think it’s a really complicated and important issue, especially in creative and knowledge-based fields like PR and marketing, where the profession, practices, and expectations are evolving with the opportunity of new media.

    In my community managers circle, there’s definitely a culture of multitasking-by-default. I myself am addicted to tab browsing. I probably have 30-40 tabs open in a typical workday, constantly closing and opening, since cultivating content around my product’s niche is an important part of my job!

    So, the idea that there are certain tasks or projects or times of day that multitasking is used for seems to resonate with me, but the always-on-multitask by default does deserve to be challenged, I think.

    Thanks for getting the conversation started!

  3. Teri Guill Says:
    March 25th, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    I don’t think I will ever stop using multiple tabs. You can’t tear me away from my tabbed browsing!

    I think the sheer quantity of media and information available at our fingertips sort of makes us feel like we HAVE to multitask in order to take it all in and get it all done. And, of course, the way most of this info is presented makes it easier to multitask, usually (different devices, multiple screens, tabs, etc.). I’m not sure if it’s out of any true need or just out of sheer habit and convenience, or if it’s really all just a rush of brain chemicals, but I agree with Marny Smith that I think I’d be more lost if I was unable to multitask.

    When I’m writing or editing or even designing, I do a lot of back-and-forth with other things (browsing, twitter, etc.) when I get stuck. But multitasking while writing or designing, for me, can sometimes serve as an inspiration or allow me to roll my ideas around in my back-brain while doing something else.

    Do you think the physical speed of technology influences how much we are likely to multitask? I find that if I have to wait on something (a video to load, software to boot up, whatever) I’m far more likely to jump to a different task in the interim (even if the wait really isn’t all that much) and then toggle back and forth.

  4. Catherine Langford Says:
    April 5th, 2011 at 5:09 am

    This resonates - I trip between tabs all the time, researching as I write. I agree that the speed of technology facilitates the consummate multi-tasker. At times to the detriment of the output and the brain initiating. I get to a point where there is an almost physical sense of my brain skating across the surface of things. Rather than a creative processing plant, sometimes it seems as though my mind is just a temporary conduit to enable information to flow from multiple tabs into another more singular source. My job requires a high degree of multi-tasking (or have I led myself to believe that?) so it’s a case of balance. For example, I have just printed several pages of copy that I need to rewrite so I am going to switch my computer off, take said pages to a cafe and have a coffee while I do two hours offline work on just ONE project using only what’s in my brain. I can’t wait!

  5. Marlon @ productivity bits Says:
    April 5th, 2011 at 5:47 am

    With all the kinds of responsibilities we have, to NOT multi-task is not taking the most efficient way of getting things done.

    The limited amount of time that we have is not really enough to navigate through the colossal information we have to process each day.

    I used to believe that uni-tasking was the key to productivity. That philosophy is already obsolete and does not work in the current workplace setups.

  6. Faye Says:
    July 8th, 2011 at 12:07 am

    Awesome post! Multitasking is really a great time waster. You may find this free multitasking exercise helpful: http://t.co/bULIuwK

  7. Taylor Flumerfelt Says:
    January 29th, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    This is a great post, Tiffany. I think the title is a question that is being talked about more and more as we are becoming increasingly bombarded with stimuli from all angles. I almost feel like I can’t function anymore without multitasking. My mind and body are so used to doing two or more things at once that I find it difficult to focus on just one task, even though I know that the product I’m working on will be of better quality if I do put all of my attention on it for the time being. What do you think we can do to get away from this “multitasking is necessary” mindset?

  8. PR Professional Blog Comments | PRestigious Says:
    January 29th, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    [...] “Are We Addicted to Multitasking?” by Tiffany Monohollon on Personal PR on [...]

  9. Walter Says:
    November 8th, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    Really great post! I find that now I have two screens on my desk I am multitasking much much more. Although I often find that the quality of work does drop when trying to do two jobs at the same time!