This is the best kind of question, because the answer is more complicated than just Yes or No.
To understand the answer, we first have to have a basic understanding of how attention and goal-directed behavior happen in the brain. Generally, the more complex a task is, the more attention we have to dedicate to it, and we can only ever focus on one of these tasks at a time. You can’t solve an algebra problem and sing the national anthem backwards at the same time. But not all tasks are creative equal.
Think about all the things you do simultaneously every day. You can be walking down the street (balancing your body, moving your muscles, navigating hazards), talking to your friend (listening to what they’re saying, processing it, coming up with what to say, speaking), and buttoning your coat (fine motor movements) at the same time, no problem!
So what’s the difference? You might notice that a lot of the things you can do at the same time are things you do a lot; breathing, walking, talking, etc. For certain kinds of tasks, because of their regularity, your brain is able to make their completion semi-automatic. Other, more complicated things, especially those requiring the manipulation of information, aren’t so easily automated. Interestingly, the processes for learning these two types of skills are also different, and they’re even stored in different types of memory (at least sometimes). Additionally, no two tasks can take place at the same time if they conflict in their needs; for instance, you can’t pick your nose and tie your shoes at the same time, because your hands can’t be in two places at once.
One caveat though is that even though something like walking might be easy now, once it’s become automatic, it can still be very difficult to learn. That’s why some things that are initially difficult and require a lot of concentration can eventually become second nature.
In some sense, we’re always multi-tasking. But in the sense of the term often used, to mean paying attention to multiple complex tasks without significantly degraded performance, it seems we can’t.
One last note though. Just because we can’t two two difficult cognitive tasks at exactly the same time doesn’t mean we can’t shift our focus very quickly. When most people talk about multi-tasking, what the are really referring to is the ability monitor their environment while working and to quickly and seamlessly switch from one task to another when necessary, an ability sometimes referred to as Continuous Partial Attention.
Multi-tasking does not mean doing two or more things at the same time. It means having the ability to shift attention among a set of tasks. This is context switching which machines do exceedingly well but which humans do poorly at best.
Working memory (the 3-7 “chunks” of information that are occupied by the details of the “task at hand”) are what we (in functional programming) call the context. Multi-tasking means saving this context (memorizing it) and loading the context of another task; and then switching back, all without skipping a beat.
The fact is, storing these chunks (and their often complex interconnections), is no small task. That said, some people do seem to become fairly good at it, at least for a very limited set of diverse tasks. It helps if the tasks are very different in nature because the chunks are stored differently for different types of tasks. Multi-tasking among a set of very similar tasks would be much harder. In any case, people like that are very rare. Most of us would drop the ball, and the effort (storing the context) is not worth the cost (loosing your place).
By the way, the example of a chess master roaming a room and playing 30 people at once is not germaine because that is a stateless (context-less) task. (I.e., he/she doesn’t have to remember each game. Returning to a game each time is as easy as glancing at the board as if for the first time.) It is perhaps telling that the World Wide Web is also a stateless paradigm (much of the time). So even machines catch a break there.
Multitasking are like santa Claus. You get presents each xmas but he himself are not real.
So how could this be?
Your brain is like a computer, it has many tasks but he takes it step by step. Luckily it can do it so quick you will never know the difference.
When you first learn how to drive you pay attention to everything. You want to switch gears but instead you run over a cow. After a while tho, you can drive, talk on the phone, sing along with the radio and solve a math problem. That’s because your brain is used to those activities so it can perform better and faster and you think its multitasking.
In our hectic life, with the given time at our disposal it is not possible for us to do or complete all tasks on hand perfectly but I would not say it is a myth . I would rather like to put it this way – multi tasking is possible but not perfectly possible !!
When you multitask, you believe you’re being exceptionally productive, but really, you’re fooling yourself. Each time you switch tasks, you have to backtrack a little and remind yourself where you are in the process and what’s next. Invariably. you are spending twice as much time on parts of the task.”-
My best friend says he can multitask, but when he’s talking on the phone and using the computer at the same time, he becomes a pain in the ass, he becomes distracted. He can’t focus on what I’m saying. The only exception is if he’s helping me with a computer-related problem, because then we’re both in-sync. So yes, multitasking is a myth. Stopping one task and doing something else isn’t multitasking. Doing two things at the same time is multitasking, and most of the time, it can’t be done. You can cook and talk on the phone, but you can’t write two documents at the same time. You only have two hands after all..
I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.
If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.
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We also have a Facebook Group Restarter Moms for Mothers or Women who would like to rejoin their careers post a career break or women who are enterpreneurs.
We are also running a series Inspirational Women from January 2021 to March 31,2021, featuring around 1000 stories about Indian Women, who changed the world. #choosetochallenge