“Tabless Thursdays” and the cost of Multitasking

Written by Martha Zimmerman

Take a look at these two videos to learn more about the effects of attempting to multitask and a way to try and end multitasking and become more productive.

The first from McGill University Psychology Professor Daniel Levitin. He describes the neurobiological costs of attempting to multitask, and how this leads to mental depletion; “You end up fractioning your attention into little bits and pieces, not really engaging fully in any one thing.”  Levitin also discusses ways in which we can restore our mental resources. This can be as simple as taking a break from your work and coming back to it with some sense of rejuvenation.

Big Think: Multitasking is a Myth and to Attempt It Comes at a Neurobiological Cost

The second is from The Atlantic’s health editor. The second video describes one way to aid in staying on task, and is something we can practice weekly, if not more: “Tabless Thursday.” James Hamblin, MD suggests using only one tab when using any browser to boost productivity. Using only one tab can help increase concentration on the task at hand, instead of switching between tasks, or tabs in this case.

Tabless Thursdays

Are you a great multitasker?

Written by Martha Zimmerman

Multitasking is a myth; what you are actually doing is task switching. This idea may challenge how we view ourselves, students, or our colleagues. You may believe that you have the ability to complete two or more tasks at once; however, you are actually alternating between the tasks. Moving between tasks can cause a decrease in productivity (Rubenstein, Meyer, & Evans, 2001). Some tasks will be completed, but the other tasks will perhaps be left behind (Wise, 2012). The delay that multitasking causes can affect productivity in the classroom.


Students will also attempt to multitask while in your classroom. This may look like texting, checking notifications, or using social media on laptops instead of taking notes. Students should hold themselves accountable, but may need guidance on how to avoid multitasking. You can model ways to avoid multitasking to help students. So: How do YOU stop multitasking? Try the following:

  1. Draw two horizontal parallel lines and grab someone to time you.

On the top line write, “I am a great multi-tasker”

On the second line write the numbers 1 through 20.

This should take about 20 seconds.

  1. Now try again but with multitasking. Have someone time you again.

Draw two more horizontal lines.

On the top you will again write, “I am a great multi-tasker.” You will write 1 through 20 again on the second line. This time you will write one letter on the top line and then one number on the second line, until you have finished completing both lines. Unless you are extremely gifted and talented you will more than likely see that your completion time has increased significantly. The reason that the second activity takes longer is because you are task switching.

Trying this activity for yourself can demonstrate that multitasking is not occurring, and attempting to can actually reduce productivity. To show students that they are not actually completing two tasks at once, you can even have them try this activity.

Now that you hopefully can see that multitasking is not real, let’s talk about how this can affect our students. Students will attempt to multitask in your classroom; whether it is by reading or doing homework for another class, trying to sneak in snapchats, or texting. This multitasking can have many negative effects on students. Unacapher, Thieu, and Wagner (2016) found that students who were identified as heavy media multitaskers (HMM) were found to have a diminished working memory, even if at the time of the test there was no media present. As educators our goal should be to help students build cognitive skills, and not lose what they already have. So, how can we avoid “multitasking” or task switching?

One way to best help students avoid multitasking is to model that behavior ourselves. One way you can do that is to keep a log of the times that you notice you are “multitasking.” Bringing awareness to this can help prevent it from reoccurring. Make a point to let your students know that you caught yourself attempting to switch between tasks. Hold your students accountable for doing the same thing while in your classroom, and out.

If you are willing to try logging when you are attempting to multitask you may find yourself becoming more productive; when you’re writing down your instances of multitasking include the task you wanted to switch to. Having this record may help you complete both tasks, however just at separate times

There are different ways that we can avoid multitasking. To begin helping ourselves and our students we can begin by logging and paying attention to our behavior.


Rubenstein, Meyer, & Evans. (2001). Executive control of cognitive proces in task switching. Journal of Experimental Psychology Human Perception & PerformanceI27(4), 763-97


Uncpher, M., Thieu, M., & Wagner, A. (2016). Media multitasking and memory: differences in working memory and long-term memory Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 2(23), 483-490


Wise, M. (2012). The multitasking myth: Handling complexity in real-world operations. MPAEA Journal Of Adult Education41(2), 68-71.

Multitasking Round Up 2

Written by Soquania Henry

This week we’re continuing the conversation about multitasking. What is multitasking, why does it do more harm than good, and how can you avoid it? Check out the resources below to learn more!

  1. Does Multitasking Kill Productivity?

    Brain GearsLearn ways to be more successful while doing your daily tasks from Next Level Life.

  2. The True Cost of Multitasking

    Busy DeskWhat have you lost lately? Find yourself questioning if you are doing things the right way? Dr. Susan Weinhenk tells us the true cost of multitasking.

  3. The Myth of Multitasking

    Time FaceWhat has history taught us about multitasking? Author Christine Rosen explains to us the myths we have adapted over time.

  4. Technology in the Classroom

    usb-2705872_1280Cell phones and other devices can increase multitasking. Dr. Althea Bauernschmidt discusses how technology affects learning in the classroom in this guest post for www.learningscientists.org.


Make Your Time Count – Tips for Students

Written by Katelynn Brown


Repeatedly throughout the day, we find ourselves engaged in multitasking. We engage in multitasking when we email while eating a meal, when we text while walking, or when we try to watch TV as we are completing homework. Many times when are engaging in these behaviors, we don’t even notice that we are multitasking. In the moment it seems like an effective and simple method of completing multiple tasks as one time. What we do not acknowledge are the effects that these decisions have on our development and the work that you are trying to complete. As individuals and as students this tendency to multitask from one activity to another can have great effects on our ability to stay focused and pay attention for any amount of time. As we become more accustomed to continually switching from one task to another, we become unaccustomed to staying focused on one task. Eventually, we have difficulty focusing on one activity or task for two long because we have become so accustomed to moving between multiple activities. This tendency to lack the ability to focus can be detrimental to students. It is important that as students we are cognizant of the decisions that we are making and that we are self-aware of the best decisions to make both inside and outside of the classroom. One specific area where students to need to be conscious is when studying. When studying, students need to think about both the good and bad habits that they might have while studying and how those might affect the studying process that they experience.

Bad Study Habits 

1. Turning to distractions

Many times students turn to distractions while studying. These distractions can include using a cell phone, surfing the internet, listening to music, or watching TV while studying. Each of these distractors affects the student’s ability to concentrate on what they are attempting to learn. While studying, students should be disconnected from social media. Students should turn off notifications and limit the amount of distractions that are present. This includes turning off the TV and limiting time spent surfing the internet. These modification aid students in staying focus and engaged in studying.


2. Waiting till the last minute

We have each procrastinated at some point but procrastination does not help you in the end. Procrastination effects the amount of time that you have to devote to studying and does not help you to demonstrate your full ability in the end. When we procrastinate we limit our abilities and are not able to demonstrate all of our knowledge. Rather than procrastinating, students should organize time appropriately, create a schedule to improve time management, and set aside an appropriate amount of time to study content material.

3. Not providing yourself enough time

When studying for an exam students need to provide themselves with a sufficient amount of time to review the required information. Students need to provide themselves with sufficient time to organize their materials, provide their full attention to the material, and review. Students need to ensure that set aside an appropriate amount of time that allows them to study all of the required information but to also take a break to relax and recharge before an exam. Students should plan study time and create an effective study schedule to help stay organized when preparing for an exam.

4. Lack of organization

In the classroom, there are going to be students who have difficulty with staying organized. It is important, especially when studying, the students are organized and have all of the materials that they need. In the classroom, teachers can help by making sure that students have their assignments and calendars in working order and ensuring that students have all of the materials they need in order to effectively study. Students can make a checklist and set a schedule to help them stay organized. By ensuring that students have all of the materials that they require it will aid students when it comes time to study to stay organized.

Busy Desk

Good Study Habits: Limit Multitasking When Studying

When studying there are many distractors that can limit a student’s ability to focus. Many times these distractions can cause students to multitask rather than focusing on the single task of studying. Students need to determine different methods that they can use to help limit the urge to multitask. Here are some methods that students can use to limit the occurrence of multitasking:

1. Make a schedule to stay on track

Making a schedule can help you stay focused and on task with the studying that is being completed. By creating a schedule you can pace your progress and ensure that you have time to cover all of the material required. When creating your schedule set goals for yourself. By setting goals for yourself, you are able to better stay on track and pace the progress that you are making.




2. Silence your phone and turn off social media, messaging, and email

As they study, students should turn off their phones to limit the tendency to become distracted. Students can limit the possibility of multitasking by turning off phones and keep the distraction at a distance. Students can set goals for themselves and once the goal is achieve they can reward themselves with the use of the cell phone. Take a step back from your social media. By taking away the distraction of social media, students are better able to focus on the material that they are studying. By limiting distractions students are less likely to lose their train of thought while studying and are able to focus creating an effective study environment.

3. Set a timer for regular breaks

While studying, students should schedule regular breaks in order to stay focused. While studying students need to make sure that they schedule study breaks to help them refocus and recharge. Study breaks give students the chance to rest and process all of the information that they are studying. It is important that students schedule regular breaks into their study schedule to limit the need to multitask and to remain focused.

Time Face

4. Limit web browsing

When studying students should limit the amount of time that they spend surfing the internet. Web browsing can become a major distraction while studying, for students. Students should limit their web browsing to content specific information in order to limit the distractions that might occur.

5. Keep a healthy snack and water nearby

When studying it is important that students keep snacks and water close by. By ensuring that these essentials are close by, students are able to stay energized while reducing temptation to leave the study area. By having snacks and water close by, students are able to stay focused on the study material and to remain energized to stay on task.


Garcia, L. (2013). 10 bad study habits and how to fix them. Retrieved from https://www.babble.com/kid/10-bad-study-habits-and-how-to-fix-them/

Loveless, B. (2017). 10 habits of highly effective students. Retrieved from https://www.educationcorner.com/habits-of-successful-students.html

UoPeople Outreach. (2017, March 19). 5 bad study habits to drop and 4 ones to keep. Retrieved from https://www.uopeople.edu/blog/5-bad-study-habits-drop-4-good-ones-keep/

Willis, J. (2016, October 25). Conquering the multitasking brain drain. Retrieved from Edutopia website: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/conquering-the-multitasking-brain-drain-judy-willis


Negative Effects of Cell Phone Use on Attention and Memory

With increasing use of cell phones, society has grown attached to these mobile devices and our attention and memory have been strongly affected. In a recent article, Galván, Vessal, and Golly (2013) examine the effects of one-sided and two-sided conversations on attention and memory of bystanders.

Cell Phone Distraction

In this experiment, researchers led participants to believe that the study’s purpose was to test their ability to complete an anagram, a task that requires the unscrambling of letters to complete a word. Participants were in fact given anagrams, however this was not the direct purpose of the study. During the anagram task, participants either overheard a one-sided conversation where a confederate talked on the phone, a one-sided conversation where a confederate talked on the phone but there was also a silent confederate in the room ignoring the conversation, or a two-sided conversation between two confederates. A confederate is an individual who is in on the study, but will act as a random participant. The conversations presented were scripted and covered three different topics.

After the conversation ended, participants were given a recognition test. This included words from the conversation, related words that were from the same category as the actual words used but weren’t part of the conversation, and other words of varying relatedness to the conversation. Additionally, participants were given a distractibility scale, which was a questionnaire about how distractive participants thought the conversations were.

For the experiment, the participants were assigned one of the three conditions (a one-sided conversation on the phone, a one-sided conversation on the phone with another confederate in the room, or a two-sided conversation between confederates). Once the participant sat down at their desk, they were given the anagram task. The researcher would pretend that the other copies of the anagram tasks were bad, so they had to leave the room to make more copies for the confederate in the room. Once the participant began completing the anagram tasks, the confederate would either answer a phone call or begin conversing with the other confederate, depending on the assigned condition. Once the experimenter got back to the room, they gave the participant the recognition memory test and the distractibility scale.

Individuals that received the treatment where they heard a one-sided conversation but there was a silent confederate in the room were grouped together with those that just heard the one-sided conversation. Then, there was the second group of participants who heard the two-sided conversation. Results from the distractibility scale showed that the participants in the group that heard the one-sided conversation found it to be more noticeable, distracting, found the content and volume was more annoying, and were more surprised that the conversation took place than the group who heard the two-sided conversation. Individuals who heard the one-sided conversation also had more accurate scores on the recognition task and were more confident in their responses to the words in the conversations. This goes to show that individuals are more distracted by and pay more attention to one-sided conversations on a cell phone, rather than two-sided conversations.

This issue of cell phones and attention is one that is very current and applicable, as the increasing use of cell phones have affected everyday tasks that require our attention. This fairly new development in technology brings us many benefits, such as immediate communication and portable access to the Internet. However the addicting nature of attachment to the device has its negative effects.

Cell Phone in Class.png

Within the classroom especially, the existence of cell phones has presented a huge problem. Students, especially at the college level, have access to their cell phones during class time on a regular basis. Further research has found that simply having a cell phone out on a student’s desk can be distracting, in addition to texting or surfing the web. Thus, it doesn’t have to be as blatant and straightforward as a verbal conversation that can be distracting towards others; the simple presence of the device can affect attention and memory as well.

It is important to become educated on these issues, particularly for students or educators. As learning in a classroom environment requires high levels of attention, eliminating causes of distraction will be beneficial for the students’ success. Using this research-based evidence, educators can make informed decisions regarding their classroom protocol, and have cell phone policies to eliminate their use during class time instruction.


Galvan, V. V., Vessal, R. S., & Golley, M. T. (2013). The effects of cell phone conversations on the attention and memory of bystanders. PLoS ONE, 8(3).


Abigail Koetting


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