6 Ways to Effectively Multi-Task (for Students and Parents)

For some reason my generation thinks they are not a complete person if they are not multitasking.  One of the problems with this is it is much harder to be effective at what you are doing if you are doing multiple things at once.

I should admit that I am a serious multitasker–not always a proud one, but I almost can’t help it. In college I often would study Chinese in the shower (put the flashcards in a ziploc and tape them to the wall) Oh ya, it was bad, my roommate thought I was nuts.

Parents often complain to me that their kids are on IM or listening to music while doing homework.  They ask me if I think they should prohibit such things.

Here are some things for parents and teens to think about in this multi-tasking age.

1. Our generation actually cannot help multitasking.  This is NOT an excuse and it is NOT good. But, I actually feel a compulsion to do multiple things at once.  When I am checking email and just checking email I feel like it is desperately quiet and have to turn on a podcast to half listen to (so I end up half hearing a podcast and checking my email a bit slower than normal).  Many kids actually cannot help typing on iChat, listening to music and talking on the phone at once…it literally creeps up on us and just happens.

2. They say our brains work faster now.  In music videos in the early 90’s the screen shot changed 1 time per every 1.6 seconds.  Now it changes 1 time per every .36 seconds! We are now being trained to take in multiple things at once at a rapid pace.  So when things are slow (like classes) we tune out and get bored.  This is not good, but we actually are used to taking in more, more quickly.

3. There is a great difference between multitasking and distractions.  I personally believe that IMing during homework is not multitasking– it is a distraction. Listening to music while doing homework can actually help teens focus or study.  It might not be a distraction.  It is important to check-in and see if the other task is helping or harming the more important one.

4. Multitasking Can Be Good. Sometimes it is good to multitask.  I keep tennis balls under my coch and stretch my feet and hands during the commercials.  Multitasking might be checking email while I wait for my paper to print, this is multitasking for the better.

5. Multitasking Can Be and Addiction. I know I am addicted to multitasking.  I know this, it is not good.  So I have made certain activities “OK” for multitasking. I have a number of podcasts that I think it is ok to half listen to.  I listen to funny books on tape in the car where it does not matter if I miss some of it when I am driving.  I have RSS feeds that are not that important that I can mindlessly check when I am on the phone with someone. If you feel you or your child has a compulsion to do this, try to find things he actually can multitask with.

6. Banish the Essentials. There are certain things that must be done with complete concentration.  remember parents, pick your battles here.  If your kid insists that listening to music is not a distraction, but you think it is, then strike a compromise.  They can listen to homework during not so hard Spanish homework, but it must be silent for a test.  Figure out what needs to be done well and alone and make sure your kids understand the difference.

Overall, I think it is possible to multitask effectively, but it is important to know your limits.

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5 Responses to “6 Ways to Effectively Multi-Task (for Students and Parents)”

  1. Rory
    July 28, 2008 at 11:38 am #

    Great post (and topic) Vanessa. I have been reading your blog for just a few days now, and with a topic like this – I will be sharing it with more and more of my readers and personal clients.

    It is so important to understand the difference between multi-tasking and being distracted – along with understanding why so many children today are always on the go.


  2. Sandie Law
    July 28, 2008 at 3:27 pm #

    I agree that multitasking can be done effectively…sometimes. However, I also think when you’re multitasking, you’re not paying complete attention to everything you’re doing. So if you need to focus on a specific task, it may be worth your while to force yourself not to multitask. That being said, I multitask a lot… :)

  3. candeelady
    July 28, 2008 at 8:40 pm #

    I use to watch my daughter do this during difficult homewwork, like math ,in high school,and it bothered me but her grades were always excellent – that should be your measure of whether or not it is a distraction. Isee her friends multitasking while doing online college courses. Music going ( not the mellow kind) ,and answering the phone all while they are writing essays! I’ve just learned it’s a skill of their generation – I’m actually jealous- I can’t type casual chat with music on! Single tasking is a challenge for my aging brain LOL

  4. Vanessa
    July 28, 2008 at 10:09 pm #

    I agree, usually when you do one thing at once you do it much much better.

    thanks for the comments!

  5. marie
    March 21, 2010 at 12:21 pm #

    Showering while you study is not multitasking. It does not take any concentration to shower while you study a foreign language. Although, kudos to you for learning Chinese!
    Writing a car insurance policy for one customer while talking to another customer about a homeowners policy. That’s multitasking.
    Good luck!

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