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What do we mean by multitasking? – Exploring the need for methodological clarification in time use research


  • Susan Kenyon

    () (Centre for Health Services Studies - University of Kent)


We can learn a lot about society by knowing how people spend their time during the typical day. However, in-consistency in the recording of time use, specifically, in how we record details of people’s participation in more than one activity at a time (“multitasking”), may be preventing full understanding of how people use their time in their everyday lives. It is not clear what “we” – as academics, survey designers and participants – mean by “mul-titasking”. This may be affecting the reliability and validity of recorded multitasking. In consequence, we may not know what we think we know about time use, with implications for “knowledge” in a wide range of aca-demic disciplines and policy areas. This paper begins by presenting examples of popular use of the term “multi-tasking”, taken from a national (GB) survey, illustrating a diversity of understanding of the term amongst par-ticipants. Next, analysis of selected time use diaries highlights the impacts of this diversity in meaning for inter-participant and inter-survey consistency and therefore for reliability and validity. Finally, the paper raises a num-ber of questions regarding the meaning of multitasking, with reference to its conceptualisation in selected aca-demic papers. The paper identifies an important gap in the research literature, illustrating a need for methodo-logical investigation in time use research, to enhance our understanding of the meaning of multitasking and therefore to enhance the comparability, reliability and validity of time use studies.

Suggested Citation

  • Susan Kenyon, 2010. "What do we mean by multitasking? – Exploring the need for methodological clarification in time use research," electronic International Journal of Time Use Research, Research Institute on Professions (Forschungsinstitut Freie Berufe (FFB)) and The International Association for Time Use Research (IATUR), vol. 7(1), pages 42-60, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:leu:journl:2010:vol7:issue1:p42-60

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. C. Russell Hill & Frank P. Stafford, 1974. "Allocation of Time to Preschool Children and Educational Opportunity," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 9(3), pages 323-341.
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    Cited by:

    1. Dharmowijoyo, Dimas B.E. & Susilo, Yusak O. & Karlström, Anders & Adiredja, Lili Somantri, 2015. "Collecting a multi-dimensional three-weeks household time-use and activity diary in the Bandung Metropolitan Area, Indonesia," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 80(C), pages 231-246.
    2. Pawlak, Jacek & Polak, John W. & Sivakumar, Aruna, 2015. "Towards a microeconomic framework for modelling the joint choice of activity–travel behaviour and ICT use," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 76(C), pages 92-112.
    3. repec:kap:transp:v:45:y:2018:i:1:d:10.1007_s11116-016-9731-5 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Lyons, Glenn & Jain , Juliet & Susilo , Yusak O. & Atkins, Steve, 2013. "Comparing rail passengers’ travel time use in Great Britain between 2004 and 2010," Working papers in Transport Economics 2013:17, CTS - Centre for Transport Studies Stockholm (KTH and VTI).

    More about this item


    Marriage; time use; Bangladesh; gender; leisure; work introduction;

    JEL classification:

    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification
    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply


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