If you are anything like me, you constantly try to multi task. The advent of Windows was, for me, the beginning of my descent into multi tasking. And I use the word “descent” very deliberately. DOS was a wonderful program in a lot of ways. You could do one, and only one thing at a time. I remember when I was in my fourth year of undergrad, typing my project on a DOS computer using Wordperfect, because the Windows computer was for the Department Head only. I could only do one thing at a time – type my project. I couldn’t switch and check my email, or play a game of snake or paranoid (that was the in-thing those days). I had to quit one program to open another. Now it seems almost like those were the medieval times, and I wonder how I would cope if I was thrown back into that world now. Such simplicity.
Yes, there are many advantages to Windows and the ability to multi task, but have we lost something in the process of switching from simplicity to complexity?
As I type this, I have 7 different windows open on my laptop, and 6 tabs open in my firefox browser, and somehow, I am doing something with all those. I am accomplishing a lot. I wonder though, what is the quality of the work I am accomplishing? Am I really saving time doing all these things at once?
I have mentioned the blog Creating Passionate Users before, and there is a post there that relates very much to what I am thinking about now. The article is titled Your brain on multitasking, and Kathy Sierra discusses what multitasking does to your brain. She states:
Our brains can’t do even two independent things that require conscious thought, especially if those two things involve different goals. But that’s OK, you might think, since multi-threaded systems on a single-processor aren’t technically doing two things at the same time.. they’re simply switching back and forth so quickly that they just appear to be processing simultaneously. But that’s the problem… the brain isn’t a computer, and in many cases the brain works much more slowly than a modern processor.
With each context switch, say, from the phone conversation to the email, there’s a hit. And it’s not a subtle hit.
In other words, multitasking does NOT save time, because our brains don’t work like computers. We are built to be mindful, to attend to one thing at a time. If we do that, then we are more productive, and achieve more, and save time.
Practicing mindfulness is like adding more hours to your day. If you’re mindful, time slows down. You get more done, enjoy things more, and feel less stress. These are big claims, but anyone who’s practiced mindful meditation or, like me, mindfulness-hold-the-meditation-thanks, will swear it’s true.
So if you’re stressed for time, do everything you can to resist the seemingly-intuitive notion that doing several things at once will save time.
So this is what I am going to try to do, and I will try very hard, because it will be VERY hard for me. I will try to practice mindfulness, to attend to one thing at a time. There are exceptions, and like everything else, this has to be adapted to each person’s lifestyle. A mother of three toddlers will of course not adapt these thoughts in the same way as a single guy who works a 9 to 5 job or a retired banker who runs his own business. The important thing, I believe, is the principle of mindfulness, and the need to really evaluate the efficacy of multitasking in our personal lives, whether it’s hurting or helping. So I am going to try, and see whether I save more time and accomplish more by avoiding multitasking and practicing mindfulness.
An interesting article, for those who want to read further on this, is from CIO Magazine, and is titled Multitasking Wastes Time and Money.
I guess I should start by closing all these windows…