Multitasking is Overrated

But I’ll finish my work!

I have a good grade in here–what does it matter?

Come on Mr. B, it ain’t bothering anyone!

A student seemingly focuses on a short documentary project using iMovie. How long until he checks his phone for texts and tweets, or opens up YouTube?

Students–and many adults–believe they can efficiently work while doing countless things at once. The statements above represent typical student responses when they attempt to justify Twitter or YouTube browsing in my Digital Storytelling course, where I’ve determined that it is too much trouble to try and police the internet or turn on strong filters. How can I get students to realize that their work quality is diminished by their constantly shifting focus? Multitasking is what they’re used to. It’s what they do. 

Related to the idea of leisure and rapidly blurring boundaries between focus, distraction, and instant entertainment is the relatively new phenomenon of extreme multitasking.  Multitasking, which perhaps helps feed our info itches and makes our brains feel good, is overrated. I’m determined to finish this blog post without checking my e-mail. Or responding to a text. Or checking Sports Illustrated online. So far, I’m doing well. But I am also drawn to the instant connection and information always one click or touch pad swipe away.

With many technological applications, it’s crucial to ask what we are missing if we fully embrace gadgetry and connectivity at all times. My sister Carolyn, who works at National Geographic in Washington, D.C., summed up a poignant reason to step away from connectivity and multitasking:

The most positive and awesome (in the true sense of the word) experiences I have had in life were never ones where I was multitasking. Preserving space to deeply enjoy, play, focus, perform, create etc. drops you in to a different brain state where you don’t have thoughts and words zooming around. Throwing that touchdown pass or nailing a solo is “wordless.”

Thanks Carolyn, I couldn’t have said it any better.

I think about recent dinner parties and backyard pot lucks, with great food, conversation, laughter, and no need or pull to turn on my phone. I think about pulling weeds in the garden, prepping soil for a new seedling, watering the plants, and engaging in the process of growing food.

I think about taking a hike in Jefferson Memorial Forest with my fiancee Rebecca, getting temporarily lost, muddy shoes and footprints and paw prints in the snow, and the satisfaction of observation, conversation, and seeing my breath against the grey Kentucky winter sky. Getting back to the visitor center for some hot chocolate.

I think about building furniture and chicken coops, when time flies and you eventually see the feel the tangible results of creation–splinters, paint stains, and all.

Of course, as Carolyn noted, in addition to the threat multitasking poses to safety with texting and driving and the loss of workplace productivity, we should question whether or not our quality of life is improved by always being connected and bombarded by information and messages.

Does multitasking seem unavoidable in your life/workplace?  Do you have any awesome experiences that included multitasking?



  1. Thanks for commenting. Mindfulness and metacognitive awareness are things I need to work on modeling more with my students, as I think everyone just rushes to the newest technology without thinking through what it means to fully embrace it, what is gained, what is lost.

  2. Enjoyed your piece on technology and learning in Education Week. This post seems to represent some of the same sentiment. Teaching with mindfulness – and teaching kids to be mindful – is one the most important qualities of effective instruction.

  3. As soon as you said you were going to finish this blog without checking email or whatever, I was instantly aware of how many tabs I had open at the time. Yeesh.

  4. We’ve all got to step back and be in the moment without extra distractions, I think, to capture and appreciate life. Thanks for the blog follow–will check out your site!

  5. Thanks for the response Melody. I think it’s how we sometimes use technology as taking the hit, not technology itself. I think I need to better define my definition of multitasking, because I certainly can relate to and also love the experience of kitchen multitasking, too:)

  6. I struggle with multitasking everyday in my job and I do agree on some level with your sister’s statement. However, I do get tired of technology always taking the hit. When you are hiking, you are multitasking by walking, talking, thinking, observing, eating, drinking, etc.

    I will refer to the dog in the movie “UP”. He is constantly being drawn away from the path or his task by “Squirrel”. Life is full of distractions, technology is just one of them. For that true deeper moment you will need to engage in meditation, prayer or whatever you call that place you go to focus on one thing, yourself. Unfortunately, I usually fall asleep…:-)

    Personally, I embrace multitasking. My favorite place to multitask is in the kitchen, drinking a glass of wine, while I talk to friends and cook a meal, while the dogs and kids whirl around and the radio is on in the background. Maybe it is just my brain, but I find an awesome, positive experience in this environment, too.

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