In GTD (Getting Things Done) and other productivity programs there is a lot of criticism about the so called multitasking myth. It is claimed that very few people actually benefit from multitasking, due to something every computer scientist knows: context switching. It basically means that while we shift from one task to the other, gather our thoughts, and prepare for the new task while tiding up mentally the one we just moved away from, we are wasting energies for nothing.
Furthermore, it seems we are more like iPhone 3 then iPhone 4:
- iPhone 4
We can do some things in parallel if they are based on different input senses (e.g. listen to a friend, while looking at our child in the garden), but when the same sense is involved we cannot easily work simoultanouskly and actually work in sequence, involving lots of rapid context switches, wasting focus and resources.
It seems that the current era pushes us to the limit with distractions (called tasks – most of them are pure noise) so I have found myself looking at a NY times article (thanks Mark P) of an overly-doing-it . It is interesting to see, as he nearly missed a 1.3M$ acquisition email of his company due to his other “tasks”.
The fun part was experimenting with the research “games” done by Eyal Ophir and Clifford Nass, Stanford University.
I tend to work with music on and ambience happening since I was a child, possibly matching a pattern where I need my “hearing” sense to be fully occupied by a controlled stream of low importance (e.g. background music) where I can easily filter it and focus on what I’m doing with my other senses (e.g. thinking, reading and writing) – with this technique I avoid the need to give attention to the audio stream (as I “control” it in low priority) and perhaps earn focus points on the task I’m doing. Hence I enjoyed the
first test of handling distractions. I guess the reason I did best when confronted with full distractions is this habit.
The second test was about rapid context switching. It seems I was between high and low multitaskers, where I over performed high multitaskers, but underperformed the low ones. A call for improvement I guess. The researchers have found that multitaskers seem to be more sensitive than non-multitaskers to incoming information.
What does it all mean? I’ll guess I’ll just grab a bite of my sandwich, have a sift of coffee and remember not to talk while eating as multitasking is hazardous in this instance…