How to be a better multi-tasker
Given our human limitations, can we actually improve our performance at multi-tasking?
You can improve your multi-tasking ability, but only up to a point. For a long time people have known that training to perform a particular sequence of tasks can reduce the time it takes if those tasks can become routine. This is because rote tasks require fewer mental demands.
"Those tasks that benefit from practice and we tend to do well by multi-tasking tend to be ones that can be automated with practice and don't require much attention. So, for example, you can run through in your head what you have to do in the coming day while having a shower," says Dr Julia Irwin.
However, just because a person has improved their efficiency performing one set of tasks, does not mean they have improved their multi-tasking efficiency generally. Research has shown the time lost when switching between tasks increases with the complexity and unfamiliarity of the tasks.
Do these experts themselves multi-task, knowing what they know?
Firstly, they never use the mobile phone while driving, knowing that it produces slower reaction times, increasing their chance of a road accident.
Dr Irwin says she takes advantage of the flexibility offered by her university job and chooses to work on Sundays when there are fewer distractions. "I come to work on a Sunday and go home feeling quite good because I've produced a lot of work and been a lot more productive," she says.
Dr Paul Dux, a lecturer at the University of Queensland, says he tries to reduce the number of tasks he is switching between, allowing his brain to focus on one thing at a time.
Why are some people better at multi-tasking than others?
Some people just have a greater attention span than others and because they have more resources they are better at the tasks at hand.
These "super-taskers" represent less than 3 percent of the population, according to University of Utah scientists.
The Multi-tasking Test aims to look at the factors that make some people more successful multi-taskers than others.