Skip main navigation

Multitasking experiment

Explore the impact of multitasking on performance and depth of experience with particular reference to an important function, and communication.
Man in car eating food, talking on phone and using laptop computer.
© Monash University 2021. CRICOS No. 00008C
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.
If it’s of interest to you, consider exploring the See also section of this step for links to research and current thinking related to this area. Doing so is optional.
These papers and articles are included to help demonstrate some of the research in this area, but we do not expect you to purchase a subscription to read the full paper.
Hopefully, just reading the summary provided in the free abstract will be sufficient for those that are wanting to know more about these studies.
© Monash University 2021. CRICOS No. 00008C
This article is from the free online

Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education