Avoid Multitasking while Studying Online

Barry Lenson

Avoid Multitasking while Studying Online

Avoid Multitasking while Studying OnlineA few years ago, just about every job posting or ad said that successful applicants “must be able to multitask.”

I don’t know if you’ve noticed it or not, but those words don’t appear too often in ads these days. Maybe that’s because lots of unfortunate things have been happening when people multitask. The most notable disasters occur when people drive while texting or talking on their phones. But there are other situations where multitasking causes problems too. A lot of them center on computer use.

If you’ve watched a high-school or college-aged student working at a computer, you might have seen an example of the kind of multitasking that I am referring to. (I am not saying that all students engage in this kind of activity, by the way.) But not too long ago I happened to be doing some research in a public library. I had my laptop running on a big table, and so did a young woman who was sitting next to me. I wasn’t spying on her (really, I wasn’t), but the commotion she was causing just by using her computer was hard for me and the other people around her to ignore. She seemed to be writing some kind of document – a term paper, maybe? – but she was doing about a dozen other things at the same time. A text would come into her handheld and she would stop, giggle, snort, and fire a text back. About every two minutes she would stop writing her paper and jump off to check her email or get on Facebook. Then she would jump back to her writing project and start banging hard on the keyboard – as though by hitting the keys lustily she would make up for lost time. All the while, she was also apparently shopping for jeans on a bunch of retail sites.

Maybe her brain was wired in a way that let her grind out a terrific term paper while she was doing a dozen other things at the same time. It is possible. I really don’t know. But a little research I did seems to confirm that when your concentration gets divided among a dozen different activities, they all usually suffer.

For example, there’s “Multitasking Doesn’t Work,” a post that Steve Nguyen wrote for the Workplace Psychology blog last year. Nguyen references article in Scientific American, The Harvard Mental Health Letter and other sources, and draws these conclusions . . .

  • People who multitask are less productive and efficient than people who concentrate on one task a time.
  • People never actually multitask, because their brains actually switch rapidly between handling one task and then another.
  • You can simplify your life and produce better results by doing only one thing at a time.

Regarding your online classes, I think the message is clear. Unless your brain is wired in eight different ways like an octopus’s legs, you are going to be a better student if you concentrate only on your coursework while you are at your computer. Facebook, your email, and buying new skinny jeans are all fun activities that will be waiting for you when your virtual class is over. And here’s a surprise. Sometimes slowing down and doing only one thing at a time can actually be . . . fun.

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