About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Combination of things I can't multi-task

In a recent comment on Ken Allen's blog, Karyn Romeis cited some studies that indicated that it is not whether we can multi-task or not, but rather what actions we can multi-task in combination. This got me to thinking about what I can and cannot multi-task.

What I can't multi-task:

I can't drive and talk at the same time
I can't write my blog and listen to what my kids are saying
I can't cook and plan the next day's schedule
I can't correct papers and plan tomorrow's class
I can't search for something on the internet and listen to my kids

Things I can multi-task

I can drive and listen to my kids' stories
I can read blogs and listen to what my kids are saying
I can cook and read
I can correct papers and watch TV
I can search for something on the internet and give my kids directions

Things I can never multitask

Finally, there are somethings that I need total concentration for, with no ability to multi-task as I work on these things:

Driving during poor weather
Writing a paper (including my dissertation)
Analyzing data
Taking down numbers or writing something that is being spelt out for me.

What does this mean?

In analyzing those that I can and those that I can't multitask in combination, I think I have trouble multi-tasking when there are two communication inputs or two communication outputs (creating and listening, for example). I also cannot multitask when the task itself is complex (a multitask) and I am still developing heuristics to accomplish the task. Once I have the skills or heuristics, it is easier for me to multitask as I can go on "auto-pilot" for those tasks for which I have developed heuristics.

I am not sure if this is something universal or unique to me (i.e. Gardner's "intelligences" where some might be able to multi-task using those skills in which they have an innate ability). I'd be interested in know what other people can and can't multi-task.


Anonymous said...

I find I cannot listen to music with lyrics (particularly blues and rock) if I am reading or writing texts. This also rules out the spoken word such as BBC Radio 4 (which I would happily have on in the background all day). Since starting my PhD I have therefore found it necessary to seriously expand the classical, jazz and dub reggae sections of my music collection (which is not necessarily a bad thing!). It's the same when I'm analyzing text or voice-based qualitative research data. Anything quantitative or routine - I can listen to any old rubbish. At times though, I've been concerned if the type of music I am listening to affects my literary or analytical processes - maybe that's another research project...

Also, I admire anyone with kids who can manage to concentrate on anything else!

V Yonkers said...

With kids, sometimes I NEED that background music (also without words) as white noise to block out what they are saying. I find also that the pace of the music makes a difference. When I am driving to work during rush hour, I need something soothing or find myself feeling like a race car driver.

That is interesting about quantitative vs. qualitative research. I don't think I could do quantitative analysis with too much distraction either. Which do you think you are stronger in? Perhaps you have stronger heuristics for quantitative data. My problem with quantitative is that I have a habit of inverting digits or skipping lines. As a result, I feel I need to be more diligent in checking the data so I can't multi-task AT ALL!

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Virginia.

I am pleased you have taken this topic further. It should be possible, I guess, to do some sort of mapping of cognitively involved activities that can be done together and those that cannot.

I think it's significant, for instance, that Scott Flansburg has to shut down almost all his cognitive areas of his brain except one in order to perform his amazing feats of calculating. I wonder how well he'd do if he were to continue a conversation, or read a book or txt on his mobile while doing one of his calculations.

Catchya later

V Yonkers said...

I agree. Of course, the other possibility with Scott is that he uses his natural heuristics that work for him, but when he is forced to use the heuristics he was schooled in, he needs to have more concentration. See the comment I left on your blog about my daughter. I doubt she can multitask now when doing math because what she was taught was "proper" in fact is contrary to her own natural processes.