Skills needed by multi-taskers

Brown (1998) investigated the concept of “time-sharing” proposed in earlier work on multi-tasking by Fogarty (1982) . Fogarty (1982) describes time-sharing as a factor that emerges when two tasks are undertaken simultaneously. This sharing of time between the tasks is the extra factor over and above those associated with performing each of the tasks in isolation.

In Brown’s paper two experiments were undertaken, one that involved completing a single task (manual tracking) and one dual tasks (manual tracking and a timing task). The following outcomes were found:

– An interference effect. Doing two tasks at the same time disrupted the speed of the timing task and made it more variable.

– A relationship between practice and interference. Practice on the tracking task under single-task conditions reduced the interference effect in timing. However, practice on the dual-task test was not successful at minimising the interference effect.

The author proposed several reasons as to why the two experiments produced a different pattern of results. They hypothesised that they each required participants to adopt different information processing strategies. In the single-task experiment participants only had to concentrate on one task and were able to build automation of tracking. Under dual-task conditions they had to contend with simultaneous demands of both tasks. They had to ‘time share’ and were less able to focus on either task, therefore less automaticity was built.

One task, tracking, improved more than the other, timing. Time-sharing requires participants to switch attention back and forth between tasks, and the tracking task was more amenable to this switching in these experiments.

This has implication for jobs where it is necessary to divide attention between tasks. Assessing job applicants’ or incumbents’ ability to ‘time-share’ when completing two tasks simultaneously is an important way of determining their suitability for more complex and demanding jobs that involve multi-tasking.┬áRightPeople’s Multi-Tasks Test and Attention Switching test can provide valuable information about individuals’ ability to divide their attention and processing resources in order to perform two tasks at the same time well.

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The Attention Switching Test measures this underlying skill directly, while Multi-Tasks is a test of higher-level problem solving, involving solving two problems simultaneously.

More information about these tests can be found here. Also on this page is an option to contact us for more information.

Understanding and measuring the underlying skills related to various components of job performance can help organisations ensure they have the best possible skills set. We’re here to help.