Have you talked on your cellphone as you drove to work and later realized you had no clear memory of the traffic, of stoplights -- which, of course, you stopped at -- or other features of the drive?
Of course you have. We've all been in situations where autopilot takes over when we're absorbed in something else.
There's been a lot of research about how we're not as capable at multitasking as we think. Sure, we might do two or more things at once, but the real thinking is applied to only one of the tasks.
That's why a Baylor University professor deserves attention for new advice about how this applies to your professional resumes. Anne Grinols, an assistant dean in Baylor's master of business administration program, says prospective employers may not look kindly on your claims of multitasking.
In published research, Grinols debunks three "myths" of multitasking:
--The belief that you can do two mental activities at once.
"Conscious mental activity happens one activity at a time," Grinols said.
If you text during a meeting, your brain will assimilate what you're texting. Even if you're hearing what's going on the meeting, that won't get your full attention.
--The belief that you can be in top form by flipping back and forth between mental activities.
"Efforts to multitask have had unfortunate results," she said.
In one experiment, she had students read material in class while they had full access to use their cellphones. The more text messages students sent or received during class, the worse they performed on a comprehension test about the material they read.
--The belief that you can monitor yourself to stay in top form.
"I am reminded of the observation of a fourth-grade teacher who told her class, 'Do not watch TV while you do your homework or you will find yourself doing TV while you watch your homework,'" Grinols said.
In the workplace, the professor said, employers expect top-form accomplishment, and that won't happen if your focus on the prime task is muddied by shared attention. On your resume, it's better to cite specific expertise in multiple areas than to simply claim an ability to multitask.
Grinols shared a drawn-from-the-real-world example from the workplace:
You're assigned to work with a team to develop a certain strategy. The work starts with a team meeting. You attend the meeting, but you're completely engaged in thinking about the strategy that you propose. You're hearing your team members talk, but you're not really listening. You're mentally forming what you intend to say or do.
Been there, done that, right?
No one wants you to sit like a sponge. You're expected to participate in the give-and-take. Neither should you be so singularly task-minded that you're antisocial. Just remember that your multitasking ability isn't as good as you think it is.
Follow Kansas City Star writer Diane Stafford, at kansascity.com/workplace.