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The Problem with Multitasking

2 Minutes Read

"What gets measured, get managed" - Peter Drucker

Because colleges use GPAs (in context) to sort through applications, many students are painfully aware of their grade average down to a hundredth of a point. Here's a secret though: colleges care very little about hundredths of a point.

Measurements are only valuable at the appropriate level of perspective. Through grades, admissions committees are trying to assess your ability to be successful at your college. Therefore, they want to understand your level of academic achievement in a broader context.

In a basketball game, finishing with a score of 104 to 103 is important. One team wins and one team loses. College admissions just isn't that kind of competition. Students should focus on earning strong grades, but colleges are looking for those of you interested in more than numbers. They care about the level of depth and substance of your intellectual and other pursuits. 

Unfortunately, this can easily be misinterpreted. By thinking it is the number of advanced courses and extracurricular activities that constitute depth, students are taking on more than they can chew. Facing the prospect of serious sleep deprivation, it is logical for us to try and multitask our way through it all. 


Multitasking is a Misnomer

Most of us feel we are good at multitasking, but science says otherwise. In fact, according to productivity expert, Dave Crenshaw, multitasking doesn’t even really exist. He argues that when we refer to multitasking we are actually talking about background tasking or switch tasking.

Background tasking -  performing a task while something mindless or mundane occurs in the background. Examples include: exercising or cooking while you listen to music or throwing in a load of laundry while you are talking on the phone. Background tasking can improve productivity overall.

Switch tasking - attempting to do multiple attention-requiring tasks at the same time. In 2021, this is often related to our phones or other devices. If you are trying to study or write an essay, every time a text message or DM comes in it doesn’t feel like a big deal. We answer and keep going with our work. 

But each switch in attention incurs switching cost, which includes a loss of time, a decrease in performance, and an increase in stress levels. When most of us say we are “multitasking,” we typically are referring to switch-tasking. For proof of the switching cost, take 5 minutes to watch this video and then try this exercise


Measure Switchtasking

Because it adds up to lost time, more stress and sub-optimal performance, the savviest students (and adults) work to avoid switch tasking as much as possible. It is not easy. We have been trained to receive a dopamine hit every time we get a new notification on our phone, but it can be done. 

The first step is to become more conscious of the issue. Try to assess the level of switch tasking in your life and then ask yourself, what actions do I want to take (am I willing to take) to protect my own time, well-being, and ultimately, GPA?  


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