As I sat in the back of my journalism lecture hall, I scanned the laptop screens in the sea of students before me. Some were checking Facebook, others online shopping. Some had their laptops closed, taking notes on lined paper the old-fashioned way, but even some of those students were really just doodling. But no one in the class focused 100 percent on the lecture. Generation Y, it seems, has never been a fan of just doing one thing at a time. We check Facebook while taking notes in class, text our friends while writing that English paper, and watch TV while reading for lecture. Generation Y is no stranger to multi-tasking. In a world that has gone so much online, with everything readily available at the click of a mouse, who would want to do just one thing at a time?


As Generation Y floods the workplace, we are bringing with us our fast-paced lifestyle, thinking about and working on a hundred things at once. But suddenly that checking Facebook during class is now scanning during a meeting, and texting while working on a paper is messaging while writing a report. How much of our beloved multi-tasking is too much? At what point are you no longer productive and just being sloppy? Multitasking does have a time and place in the office, experts tell us, but it must be done correctly.

DO “distract yourself” on occasion

When controlled, multitasking may not only increase your productivity, but also increase your ability to recall information. A study at the University of Plymouth School of Research discovered that individuals who doodled while listening to a meeting-style lecture could recall 29 percent more information than the average individual who didn’t doodle. “Two tasks can be done without detriment to the other,” says Jackie Andrade, the associate head of the school, in an email interview. “But coordinating them also involves central executive resources that could otherwise lead to daydreaming. Doodling does not enhance the learning itself, it merely reduces daydreaming which interferes with learning.” This means that when you force yourself to do something tangible, like doodling, you are engaging your hands, eyes, and other parts of your brain while listening, and you can therefore decrease your tendency to “daydream.” You can help yourself to actually listen and learn. Andrade also adds that other similar tasks that are simple and repetitive, like knitting, could have the same effect.

DON’T do things as you receive them

In a recent study at Vanderbilt University, researchers took MRI images of individuals’ brains while having them perform one task at a time. The study found that “when humans attempt to perform two tasks at once, execution of the first task usually leads to postponement of the second one.” This means if you are, for example, filling out an expense report, but at then answer a call from your mom to ask about Christmas plans, you will not do either as well as you should. Trying to talk and fill out the report simultaneously means that you are not devoting full attention to each. Mom ends up mad and the report undone. The study also suggested that your brain will “bottleneck” focus in your frontal lobe. If given too much stimuli at once, your frontal lobe cannot process it all, and you only absorb a few things at a time. So when tasks arrive from your boss, via email, and from other outside sources, don’t try to juggle them all at once.

DO make to-do lists

With all the varied responsibilities from school or in the workplace, it can be hard not to switch among them to get items done as they come. But tackling big tasks as they arrive can cause you to multitask on projects which you should be devoting full attention to. Rather than take things as they come, write them down in a list, so you can prioritize. “I definitely write down [tasks] as they come to me, but I make sure to check through [the lists] each night to keep track of what I have already accomplished and make a mental plan for my next day,” says Randi Amalfitano, 21-year old senior at New York University and president of NYU’s Panhellenic Council. “Having a list gives me something concrete to base my day off of.” Beyond that, she feels much less overwhelmed being able to see her schedule and tasks laid out concretely.

DON’T switch back and forth between unrelated tasks

Several studies indicate that when switching back and forth between tasks, the brain goes through a strenuous process to adjust. According to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in “How to Multi-Task Effectively,” the brain undergoes “a) a selection process for choosing a new activity; b) turning off the mental rules needed to do the first task; c) turning on the mental rules needed to do the second task; and d) orienting itself to the conditions currently surrounding the new task.” Translation? Rather than sending a text while in a meeting, send texts while sending emails from your phone. That way your brain does not have to readjust as much for the second task. Or check Twitter and Facebook for five minutes in between jobs rather than jumping back and forth between your work screen and social media page.

DO get your priorities straight

While it may not be a good idea to try and Facebook message your boyfriend while writing a report for your boss, some mundane tasks can, in fact, be deprioritized and done at the same time. Dorothy Vickery, 21-year-old New York University senior, says that in both her schoolwork and her internship at a literary agency, she must decide what to focus on completely, and what she can do a little less “whole-heartedly,” without it being an overall detriment. “I think it’s appropriate to multitask when you have two different tasks that don’t require the same concentration,” Vickery says. For example, she notes that when she’s in meetings, and topics unrelated to her are being discussed, she can answer emails, while still being attentive to what’s being said so that she can return to just listening when the topic is once again relevant to her. However, Vickery says that when it comes to reading manuscripts for her internship or taking notes in class, she feels that giving her full attention is of the utmost importance. But according to Vickery, millennials are born “multi-taskers.” “When we’re doing work, organizing meetings, and going to practices, we’re constantly switching between things.” Laughing, she adds, “How else am I supposed to check Facebook and write my paper?”