Part 2: Multitasking, is it a skill or does it slow us down?

In part 2 of the series Thoughts in the daily life of an IT professional I want to stress the effects of multitasking on our work. I have a Master in Clinical Psychology and thus an interesting viewpoint on this subject.

Wikipedia defines multitasking as

Human multitasking is an apparent human ability to perform more than one task, or activity, over a short period of time. An example of multitasking is taking phone calls while typing an email and reading a book.

Indeed, this is a popular definition of multitasking. For me multitasking is serial: doing your tasks one at a time, continuously switching between them. Parallel multitasking is doing different tasks at one time, much like Wikipedia defines.

Really, I find that multitasking IS serial in our job as web developers. You can’t edit a css-file and a  html-file at the same time. You can switch from one to the other at high speed but cannot handle them at the same time. That’s why I think multitasking is serial in nature, at least for web developers. There is a lot of research that backs it up: parallel multitasking is a myth.

Everyone knows the feeling of switching back to a previous task and thinking ‘where the hell was I at?’. The effects of multitasking include a loss of efficiency and performance. There’s even evidence that someone who is new at multitasking and likes to do one thing at a time outperforms someone who is ‘skilled’ at it. The effects take over and become automatic in nature.

Most employers demand multitasking skills of their employees. This implies that the effects of multitasking are not well known. It’s important to keep this in mind: multitasking will have a negative impact on your work. Try to be assertive and protect the outcome of your work.

Try to find a balance between your schedule and unexpected tasks. Keep your boss, but most importantly yourself, happy.



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