Our lives have become so busy. Between work, family and friends it seems the only way to get everything done is to multitask. In fact, being able to do three things at the same time has become a badge of honor for many. But, how good a multitasker are you? And are there some things you can do to make yourself a better multitasker?
Ph.D. candidate Shijing Liu is part of a team of student researchers in the ISE Department under the guidance of professor CS Nam who have set out to answer that last question.
Recently, Liu presented the team’s findings at the 2016 Human Factors and Ergonomics Society International Annual Meeting in Washington, DC. Their paper entitled, “Effects of Working Memory Capacity, Task Switching, and Task Difficulty on Multitasking Performance”, discussed the ever growing need for employees to multitask in their jobs. Previous studies have shown how a person’s working memory capacity and task switching abilities affected performance levels. In their research, the team discovered that the difficulty level of the tasks performed played a significant role in a person’s performance.
“The goal of the research is to help workers with complex and safety-critical jobs.” explained Liu. “To provide employers with a guideline for improving the design of multitasking systems.” This research was supported in part by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) traineeship grant and the National Science Foundation (NSF).
So, what are some things you can do to make yourself a better multitasker? The team suggests that you when multitasking, make sure that at least one of the tasks be mentally easy to perform. For example, don’t try to solve complex math problems while carrying on an intense conversation via text message. This will help to take some of the load off of your brain and improve performance.
Also, you can improve your working memory capacity and task switching ability through “brain games” and “mind teasers”. Problems that use mental math, remembering objects or words while performing other tasks, or switching back and forth between two tasks will exercise working memory and task switching.
Want to be a better multitasker? Treat your brain like a muscle: Exercise it!