It’s a fast-paced world. Productivity is key. How can we do more, be more, have more?

One technique for accomplishing more is multi-tasking. Answer e-mails on the bus. Jog while you study. Eat in your sleep. Do origami during open-heart surgery. With a little luck, you can cram so much into every day that people will weep at your graveside, thinking about the many, many tasks you were able to complete the last time they saw you. Your children will rise up and call you blessed, while making a salad and learning Japanese.

Do we have to multi-task? Some say we do, or else we will be lost in the maelstrom of tasks our smashcut, ADD-infested world requires of us. You’re reading this article, but for your sake I hope you are also doing something else right now.  Like maybe skiing. Do it or get left behind with some of the best minds of our generation, destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked. Do it or lose your edge to the kids whose footsteps you hear when they get on the decks.

Others pooh-pooh multi-tasking. Pooh-pooh, they say. You can’t do five things at once, not really. You could do all the tasks better faster stronger if you did them in sequence. You’re kidding yourselves with that rockety-roll music, and you look ridiculous knitting on the treadmill. All these new-fangled gadgets just make a lot of noise, anyway. Now pass the All-Bran.

So who is right? According to Scottish researchers Drs. Tracy Alloway and Ross Alloway of Stirling University and the University of Edinburgh, respectively, the answer (as usual) may be no one. The Doctors Alloway recently published a paper in which they studied the habits of workers using digital technology in an office setting.

In their study, the Alloways first identified the workers as either active digital technology (ADT) or passive digital technology (PDT) users. ADT users tend to spend more time in online pursuits, while PDT users are into more traditional pursuits, like shaving cats or playing with aluminum foil.

Both ADT and PDF users were then given several tasks to do that involved selecting (or not selecting) the number 5 out of a series.

Right off the block, it seemed like the tweaking web addict ADT users were doing better. Their answers came faster and were more accurate than those dopey PDTs. They were chirpy, clicking (or avoiding) all the 5s with a casual air while playing a cadenza and preparing some iced tea.

After the first round of tasks was over, however, the plodding PDT users started to settle in and make up ground. While their accuracy in the first round was low, by the end of the study their answers were as accurate as their competitors’.

The Alloways conclude that maybe there’s room for both approaches in our modern workplaces. ADT nutjobs will excel in environments where they have to take care of multiple streams of information simultaneously, while boring ol’ PDT-ers will do better if they can devote their attention to one task at a time, even if they’re sometimes required to switch from task to task.

Dr. Tracey Alloway and Dr. Ross Alloway. I don't know these
people at all, obviously, but... she's one of the ADT users, yes?