Multi-tasking - when did it become something to strive for? Was it when we all decided we were so busy we had to do multiple things at once?
Was it when the economic downturn led to staff cuts at workplaces and we figured we could do the jobs of a few extra people if we did a bit of this and a bit of that, all at the same time?
Was it when electronic gadgets began proliferating and all of their ringing and chirping made us feel we had to respond - now?
There's no denying multi-tasking has become a badge of honour for some, but a new study shows people who rely on it may be wasting their time. According to a team from the University of Utah, which tested 310 volunteers to measure their actual multi-tasking ability against their imagined ability, multi-taskers are terrible at multi-tasking.
"The people who are most likely to multitask harbour the illusion they are better than average at it, when in fact they are often worse," said Prof. David Strayer, senior author of the study. "If you have people multi-tasking a lot, you might come to the conclusion that they are good at multi-tasking. In fact, the more likely they are to do it, the more likely they are to be bad at it."
The researchers found people end up juggling activities because they are easily distracted, not because they are good at it. Ironically, they found the most efficient multi-taskers were the ones least likely to do it: people who can actually focus on one thing at a time.
One particularly interesting conclusion of the study, published in the Public Library of Science? People who talk on cellphones while driving tend to be least able to multi-task well.
But if you've driven behind one of them, you already knew that.