There are a lot of different ideas out there about multi-tasking. Many people believe they can actually multi-task well. This may be true with certain tasks. For example, taking a walk and listening to a podcast can be done well. Try thinking about something unrelated to the podcast and you may realize you really weren’t listening to it at all. This happens to me often. Some things prove the danger of multi-tasking quite well. For example, look at texting and driving. OK, you may be able to do it when stopped at a red light, or even when driving, but don’t take the chance. I remember a time when I was playing a podcast, listening to music, having a webstream on, talking on the phone and on top of that doing records and studying. All I remember about that was nothing actually got accomplished. I don’t recall one thing I learned or heard or saw or talked about from that time!
Just like computers, we should go from one task and then be able to switch to another and then back. Also, like a computer, multitasking can be ineffective (ever have 37 tabs open in a web browser, playing music and a podcast at the same time, have 5 spreadsheets and 4 word documents open, and a bunch of other miscellaneous apps open)? Yeah the computer will work but probably crash or just turn off if you do that for long. Doing too many things at once is ineffective.
The point of all of this is to say that multi-tasking really is not much a thing we can do because even a computer may have all of these things open but we can only focus on one of the 37 tabs (or two with a double screen) at time. Just as computers lose efficiency as too many programs are running, we do the same thing.
This isn’t just true for simultaneous tasks either. If my to do list has 289 items on it for my job (Luckily that's in total and is not all the same day!), I get overwhelmed and much less productive because I am stressed out and overwhelmed. The ability to focus on one thing at a time is invaluable. I find it difficult to be overwhelmed with tons of tasks from different directions. In a company, employees that are overwhelmed feel paralyzed in terms of productivity and this causes the overall company productivity to drop if everyone is managed the same way. For the bosses/managers-if you are reading this, please take note that employees are most productive when they are given a manageable amount of tasks that is possible to accomplish. I know this can be a challenge for you to know, especially if your employees don't communicate that they are overwhelmed.
Just like anything else, everyone is different. So if you are really good at multitasking certain tasks, go ahead and do them that way. But also take note that if listening to music while reading that book isn’t working out well, then separating the tasks is a good idea. It may also be a good idea to time a task on it’s own and then time when multi-tasking and see how much longer it takes to do the same task. For example, the day I wrote this post I was Facebook chatting with a friend and doing records at the same time. Now of course I really wasn’t. In reality, I would be doing the records, then switch to read the message and respond, then back to the records, and then to the next message, etc. It appeared to take about a third of the time longer in this particular case.