Do not multitask

December 25, 2020

Excerpt from "How to Take Smart Notes"

The fact that people nevertheless believe that they can get better at it (multitasking) and increase their productivity can easily be explained by two factors.

The first is the lack of control group or an objective external measurement that would provide us with the feedback we need to learn.

The second is what psychologists call the mere-exposure effect: doing something many times makes us believe we have become good at it - completely independent of our actual performance (Bornstein 1989).

We unfortunately tend to confuse familiarity with skill.

I have always known I am not a good multitasker; now I find it funny to realise no one is actually good at multitasking. Changing from one topic to another drains our energy thus making us less efficient. Having a lot of work to do is a totally different story. But those who believe they can efficiently multitask are actually doing worse than those focusing on one task at a time.

According to a widely cited study, the constant interruption of emails and text messages cuts our productivity by about 40% and makes us at least 10 IQ points dumber.

Nevertheless, as mentioned in the second point of why people fall under the false believe of becoming good at multitasking, I know I have also fallen many times to confuse familiarity with skill. How many times you've repeated a task and got the sense you were doing better at it, when in reality, you just got used to it. Perhaps you hadn't even realised until now.

* Note: it is easy to tell yourself not to fool yourself, however, how do you do it?


Written by Alberto Delgado who loves building cool stuff and learning one or two things in the process.

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