Multitasking – Is there another option?

As  I sit here working on this blog, I am simultaneously running some samples on a GC. Is it truly multitasking if I have 8 minutes between samples? Is focusing on one thing for 8 minutes, then switching to something else for 2  minutes really multitasking? Would I have any hope of completing my work if I didn’t do both at the same time? It makes we wonder at what point we classify something as multitasking. I’m clearly not multitasking if I just stare at the GC for the 8 minutes it takes to run a sample, but I’m also wasting my time because there is really nothing I can do until it finishes. In this instance, “multitasking” is probably the best choice.

The focus on multitasking is particularly relevant to me now, as a graduate student. I’m sure that my work would be better if I had time to focus on each thing separately, but in a world of competing interests I’m not sure that it’s possible to completely avoid multitasking, nor would I want to in the case of my GC example. I try to break up my week into chunks of work on one project or another, but things do tend to bleed together. Am I more productive this way? I don’t really have a control scenario so I can’t really tell. It’s not like I can totally drop one of my responsibilities in favor of another. Many of us have competing interests that we must balance to be successful.

Many of the articles we read mentioned how technology is playing a role in how much we multitask. I question whether or not that truly should be classified as multitasking, but I have definitely taken steps to rid myself of some of the technology based distractions that can get in the way of productivity. I use StayFocused, which is a browser extension that blocks selected websites during certain times of the day, and keeps you honest by making it difficult or impossible to change its settings for that same day. No facebook between 9 and 5 for me! A big part of multitasking effectively is making sure that your “multitasking” isn’t distraction based. Hopping on Facebook isn’t multitasking, it’s distracting yourself from your work, and I think that distinction is important.

Technology has made access to distractions much easier and much faster, but I think it has done far more good by giving us access to more information, quicker. I will not be physically visiting the library and searching through journals when google scholar can do the same thing, better, without me leaving my desk. I think that individuals will eventually figure out how to best work with technology, and not let technology work against us with its myriad of distracting possibilities. After all, it’s not really a computer’s fault if we use it in a way that is distracting us from our work or education. The solution isn’t to be wary of the technology, but to have adequate self discipline to keep yourself on task.


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