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Exercise:: The mythical benefits of Multi-Tasking

Many people are great multitaskers... why isn't everyone?  Well it may come down to the perceptions of the actor - not the observer.  I've been asked for exercises that will demonstrate this benefit perception dissonance.

Quick Overview

Time three people perform simple tasks (sequential): recite the alphabet, count to 100 by 3s, name the colors of the rainbow in order 3 times.  (one sequencing task at a time - measure the cumulative time of all 3 tasks)

Now introduce a Switcher (4th volunteer) when they call out "SWITCH" the people change task (the person reciting the alphabet, switches to pick up the counting by 3s, who switches to naming the colors, who switches to the alphabet, etc.  The Switcher should have at least 4 switches before the crew finishes all tasks.  Measure the cumulative time.

I suggest they perform the task visibly in front of the observers, by writing on a whiteboard their task.  This allows for the whole group to share the experience, and observe the task-switching efficiencies.

What's the Problem?

As the difficulty of the task increases from simple rote memory (alphabet) and keeping track of where in the sequence we are, to some form of mental processing along with sequence progression, to unique processing for each item in the list (for example the prime numbers) the only aspect that becomes more challenging to the human is memory of where in the sequence we leave off when switching.  It is very likely that some humans are much better then others at this short-term storage of the place that was left off in the sequence.  But does this short term memory usage effect the ability to perform the next task?  At what number of tasks does the typical human need some form of memory aid - an externalization of the complicated multitude of task?  A white board and writing task could perform this externalization - want to try that experiment?


Resources:

Common number sequences:

Even numbers 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, ...
Odd Numbers 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, ...
Square Numbers 1, 4, 9, 16, 25, ...
Cube Numbers 1, 8, 27, 64, 125, ...
Doubling Numbers 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, ...
Prime Numbers 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, etc.
Fibonacci Numbers 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, ...

Notes on the Treble Staff:

E
very Good Boy Does Fine.  FACE 


Roy G. Biv is an acronym for the colors of the rainbow:

R = Red
O = Orange
Y = Yellow
G = Green
B = Blue
I = Indigo
V = Violet

The common order of multiple adjectives in English: 
Quantity, Value/opinion, Size, Temperature, Age, Shape, Color, Origin, Material
(ef.edu - English Grammar)

See Also:

Henrik Kniberg's Multitasking Name Game (PDF)
Multitask writing 5 names - then single task writing 5 names.  Debrief the experience.
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