Saturday, 13 June 2015

The myth of multitasking

I was on the phone to Our Man in the Middle East earlier in the week, discussing something in a spreadsheet, when the cheeky sod sent me a text message, conveying the sort of gossip you can't say out loud in the office then following it up with a question as to why I didn't reply.  "You know I can't multi-task!" I told him crossly.  He just laughed.  

(Our Man in the Middle East is the colleague I talk to the most from the new business I look after.  I'd already told him that when I read something, my ears shut off.  I don't think he quite believes me.  Anyway....)

As far as I'm concerned, multitasking is a myth.  I can only concentrate on one thing at a time; most people can't concentrate on two.  Oh, I can mimic multitasking with certain amount of planning, but it isn't real.  Take yesterday afternoon when I did two loads of washing, baked bread (in the bread maker), and listened to the cricket while cleaning up the kitchen.  That sounds like multitasking, but it's not.  It's just doing things in an efficient sequence.

Any project manager will tell you, the secret is in how you program the work.  I reckon that this is what women have always done, which is why the myth of multitasking came about.  For thousands of years, we watched the kids while growing the veg, feeding the chooks, tending the fire and cleaning the house, probably while figuring out how to make the end of a loaf of bread and 2oz of bacon feed a family of 6.   

It's not that we're concentrating on two (or three or four) separate things at once, rather we're working through activities from a mental list.  This is what women have always done and continue to do.  Fast-forward to the 21st Century and we are still doing it, only now we're planning dinner while waiting for the MFD to spit out our printing.  Nothing's changed really.

Multitasking?  Not me.

- Pam


Mother of Chaos said...

LOL - so true. I do a lot of "multitasking," but come right down to it, I'm not actually, say, watching a subtitled movie on one screen and playing Warcraft on the other simultaneously. I'm just switching back and forth between the two very-very fast.

Monday's Child said...

Absolute truth. My ears also shut off when I read. If they don't, I can't absorb what I'm reading. It's one or the other, not both.
I've said repeatedly that I don't multitask, and people look at me like I'm weird. I'm not - I'm just more honest. (Okay, I *am* weird. But not this way.)
But I also think it has a lot to do with which type of processing I'm doing. Language is definitely a one-at-a-time thing. I'm marginally better at knitting/crocheting/playing a game while watching TV... but not if I have to count stitches or concentrate on a complicated pattern or plan my next action. Then I'm back to losing my hearing.
So, yeah, I can totally watch a show I love while reading Facebook... it just requires a remote control, continuous rewinding, and 3 times as long as usual.

CobaltBlueFire said...

One of your links is broken.. I'm not able to get to Boston Gal's Open Wallet