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Two people taking part in the multitasking experiment

Multitasking experiment

If you want to explore more deeply the negative impact of complex multitasking on performance, depth of experience and enjoyment then try one or more of these multitasking experiments.

Experiment 1

Ask a friend to take part in this activity with you. You’ll need to face each other, and at least one of you will need a device connected to the Internet. If you can’t be in the same room, you could use video chat software such as Facetime, Google Hangouts or Skype.

  1. Invite your partner to speak about something that they’re authentically passionate about. It could be a hobby, a person, a pet, work, travel, love of food or anything else.

  2. Try to follow the person speaking about their passion, but at the same time continuously use your mobile device to send text messages, answer emails or play a computer game. This will require you to multitask, i.e. to continue to have your attention on the device at the same time as you are attempting to listen to your partner. We are not encouraging you to be rude or ignore your partner but just to see whether effectively doing both at the same time is possible.

  3. Let your partner continue to speak for about two minutes and then ask them to stop.

  4. Discuss with your partner about your experience, and what it was like being either the person speaking to someone who was multitasking, or multitasking while trying to listen. For example, you could discuss what effect it had on the conversation, comprehension, memory, clarity of communication or passion.

  5. You may want to switch roles so that you can have a taste of what it is like speaking about something you are passionate about to someone who is multitasking.

  6. This time repeat the exercise with your partner speaking about a passion in their life, but you will be listening fully, mindfully and not multitasking. Please give your partner your full and undivided attention just as in mindfulness meditation you give your attention to the breath. If the mind wanders off during the conversation, notice where the attention has gone and gently bring it back to the person speaking.

  7. Speak for two minutes, stop and then reflect on the exercise again.

  8. Compare the experience of mindful listening with the multitasking one. Which was more fulfilling? Which one brought out more passion in the person speaking? Which was preferable? In which did you remember more? Why?

Experiment 2

Another way to complete the experiment is to try to follow the news or a dialogue on a television or radio show while continuously using your phone, and again notice the effect this has on you.

Experiment 3

Attempt to listen to a weekly feedback video from Craig and Richard while you are continuously doing something complex on your mobile device or reading a chapter from a book. Notice the effect and then just listen to the feedback video mindfully and without doing anything else.


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This article is from the free online course:

Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance

Monash University

Get a taste of this course

Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join:

  • Welcome to the course
    Welcome to the course
    video

    In this video, Craig Hassed and Richard Chambers introduce the course and talk more about what you’re going to learn.

  • Feedback from the educators
    Feedback from the educators
    article

    Feedback from the educators is an informal video recorded at the end of each week.

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