Multitasking can cause more stress

By Bonnie Stiernberg

A student sits in her dorm, working on her history paper. She bobs her head to the music blaring from her iTunes library just as another instant message from a friend pops up on her computer screen. As she types her response, she remembers her laundry and scurries downstairs to remove it from the machine.

Scenes like this are a common occurrence nowadays, thanks partly to growing technology like the Internet and cell phones. According to a recent study by Yahoo!, the average person crams 43 hours worth of activities into a 24-hour day.

Molly Borchardt, sophomore in LAS, has been multitasking since high school.

“When I was in high school, I would watch my sister in the afternoons, cook dinner and do homework all at the same time,” she said.

As a college student, aided by new technologies, Borchardt continues multitasking.

“Now, when I’m in my room, there’s almost always music on, I’ve got AIM going and I’m doing my homework, at the least,” she said.

However, Jennifer Carson, Stress Management Coordinator and Wellness Promotion Specialist at McKinley Health Education Unit, said taking on too many tasks at once can cause some people undue stress.

“When we try to cram a number of tasks into a three hour time period when we know good and well some of those tasks need more time than what we have allowed, it can certainly impact our stress levels,” Carson said. “Multitasking doesn’t always result in efficiency, so we need to be careful how much we try to take on.”

A 2003 study by the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that people who multitask are actually less efficient than those who focus their attention on one task at a time because dealing with the two tasks at once reduces the amount of brainpower available for each particular task.

Many students like Borchardt have no choice but to work on several tasks at once because of time constraints and workloads.

“If (you don’t multitask) you still have all that stuff to do,” she said. “You’re trying to balance a social life, work and classes, and eventually, something’s got to give. You multitask so you can do it all at once.”

Brandon Bute, an assistant director at the Career Center, said the key is to maintain efficiency.

“There’s a difference between multitasking and effectively multitasking,” he said. “If someone’s able to maintain a high quality of work while multitasking, then it can certainly be a valuable time management skill.”

Bute added that while multitasking may work well for some, it’s not for everyone.

“It’s really based on the individual,” he said. “Some individuals like to concentrate on a sole task.”

Carson offered tips for students trying to deal with a busy schedule or heavy workload, and she suggested prioritizing and organizing time commitments.

“Pick the most productive time of the day for yourself and put those items that require you to concentrate and be focused during this time of the day,” she said.

Carson also recommended not taking on more than one can handle, avoiding procrastination, limiting distractions like phone and e-mail conversations, and taking breaks.

“Everyone needs to refresh and rejuvenate their mind and body,” she said.

She pointed out that students looking to do so can make an appointment at the Relaxation Room in the Oasis, located in room 40 of the Illini Union. The Relaxation Room is free to University students.

Despite living in an era of technology geared towards multitasking, it’s important for students to limit the time they spend doing multiple tasks, said Carson.

“Sometimes slowing down is just the pace we need to recoup, reenergize, and relax,” Carson said.