After a long, hard day at school, you jump off the bus and make the short walk to your house. You grab a snack, sit down on the couch, and turn on the television. Before long, you've got your homework on your lap, your phone sitting beside you, and your headphones pumping tunes into your ears.
As you complete your math problems, you listen to your favorite band, text your friends, check your Facebook timeline, and tweet a picture of your dog to your followers. You might also watch a television show or surf the Internet at the same time. How can you do all of this at once? You're a multitasker, of course!
All of us regularly engage in what is known as multitasking, which is performing a variety of different tasks at the same time. After all, there's a lot of stuff to get done, and there's only so much time in the day, right? In fact, you probably learned how to multitask at home.
Most experts agree that women tend to multitask more than men. You might have learned how to multitask by watching your mom as she cooked dinner, cleaned the kitchen, washed the laundry, and kept an eye on your younger siblings all at the same time.
In today's connected world, it might seem like it's only natural to multitask most of the time. Smartphones make it very easy to keep track of things going on in the world while we're doing a variety of other tasks. But is multitasking what we should be doing?
Experts would argue that multitasking isn't even what we're really doing. Because the brain is designed to focus on only one task at a time, experts believe that what we're doing when we think we're multitasking is really task-switching.
In other words, instead of doing multiple things at one time, we're simply switching quickly and repeatedly between different tasks. This can happen in a fraction of a second, so to our minds it seems like we're doing things simultaneously.
All that switching can take its toll on our brains, though. Researchers have found that, rather than being extremely productive, multitaskers are often inefficient and sometimes ineffective at the tasks they take on. Our brains have only so much capacity to process information, so the more we split that capacity amongst different tasks, the less we're able to dedicate to doing any particular task well.
Researchers also believe multitasking doesn't ultimately save time. Jumping back and forth between tasks usually takes longer than it would take to accomplish each task separately. Multitasking also increases the likelihood that you'll make errors, especially when the tasks involve critical thinking.
The effects of multitasking on learning concern many teachers today. Studies have shown that studying, doing homework, or listening to a teacher in class while also paying attention to other streams of information or entertainment can lead to lower levels of comprehension, retention, and application of material.
If the effects on learning aren't enough to slow you down and make you focus on one thing at a time, then maybe you'll be persuaded by the fact that multitasking can even be dangerous and harmful to your health. For example, multitasking while driving, such as texting or otherwise using a smartphone, can lead to deadly accidents. Many states are now passing laws to prevent certain types of multitasking while driving in order to make our roadways safer.