Why Multi-Tasking Makes You Stupid (And Why You’re Probably Enjoying It)

I read somewhere that multi-tasking makes you stupid. So, I did some research to understand why. What I learned was both interesting and revealing.

Google Is Your Research Friend

In my business, the phrase ‘multi-tasking makes you stupid’ is often quoted. So, I typed the phrase into Google to see what it came up with. Well, that’s not quite true. I typed the phrase ‘multi-tasking makes you’. This is the list I got back.

Google Search results for the phrase 'Multi tasking makes you'

Interesting. Almost 1 million hits on how multi-tasking makes you stupid. Also interesting, 835k hits on how multi-tasking makes you smarter. Hmmm. But even more interesting, from a research perspective at least, is the 13.4 million results for the phrase ‘multi-tasking makes you feel good’!

Multi-tasking Makes You Feel Good

The top rated article for the phrase ‘Multi-tasking makes you feel good’, a study by researchers from Ohio State University, looked at the effects of media multitasking on college students.

The findings showed that emotional and habitual needs were most satisfied by multitasking, even if learning and thinking skills were reduced in the process. An example was given whereby students would study a book while also watching a TV show.

Apparently, it can make a dull but necessary task seem fun, less stressful, and more doable. It’s a habit and, like all habits, it’s difficult to break.

Summary: Multi-tasking Makes You Stupid. But You Feel Good!

There seems to be no argument about multi-tasking rendering us less intelligent. Even the quoted article on how it can make you feel good starts with this quote: “There’s this myth among some people that multitasking makes them more productive” (Dr Zheng Wang)

But there’s no denying the positive emotional feelings we can get when multi-tasking. Good organisations, and good coaches, recognise this and work with it. They realise that the behaviour is habitual and difficult to change (not that it stops them).

Want To Prove it To Yourself?

I’ve created a video on how context switching is harmful. It contains a simple, short exercise where you can prove it to yourself, or others.

Want To Learn More?

Check out my article on context switching. Also, I’ve created a two-day course called Turbo Scrum which details over 30 techniques that you can apply to improve the performance of your software team. The World premiere of this course happens at the RAF Club in Mayfair, London on 18-19 June 2019. Tickets are available now.

This article originally appeared on the Scrum.org blog