Has anyone else noticed how common it is for people to profess they're great multitaskers? Even more interesting is how people define multitasking. It's almost become a part of popular culture to describe performing multiple work tasks, while watching TV, and keeping up to date with both social and news media is not only multitasking but a way to improve productivity. I beg to differ.
This form of multitasking is more like "rapid task switching" and verifies a misconception of what it means to perform and manage multiple jobs simultaneously in a productive manner. Direct attention and care can really only be adequately focused on one thing at a time. As more thoughts or questions occupy the brain, all of them lose depth. We may be writing an email while watching a movie, and on the surface it may seem like these are both getting done at the same time. Further still, we may convince ourselves that the movie prevents idle nothingness and meandering thoughts, but really this is a fool's game. Odds are the writing is interrupted by background noise and random thoughts while your movie watching is requiring multiple rewinds.
This is exactly what it means to be unproductive. Nothing you're doing is being done effectively, or efficiently.
Focusing on single tasks as the absolutely priority, with any other task or input being in clear support of the main goal, is therefore how to really be productive. I often find my mind wanders if I try to write or read in silence,or accompanied only by the sounds of my surroundings (others talking, music, cars, birds, etc). So for me, it is important to control my work station, and music helps with that, but I opt for jazz, melodic electronic play lists or classical. Sounds that occupy space mentally, but don't warrant any focused attention since there's no lyrics, the songs or artists are unfamiliar, and don't inspire any great emotional response.
There's no competition between what's most important nor is there any for my focused attention.