Musing about multi-tasking

Multi-Tasking and Driving
Image by Mike “Dakinewavamon” Kline via Flickr

Hot Topic today

Multi-tasking is a hot topic these days. We hear that women can do it – in fact they must do it to handle their responsibilities. Men can’t. Supposedly, the times demand it and we all must multi-task to make it these days. I am skeptical but always interested in anything that might improve productivity so recently when David Doolin at his home base Website in a Weekend touched on multitasking in a post discussing how he was working a new task into his routines, it got me thinking. I recommend that you check out his post and the other information over at his place.

What about single-tasking?

What got me going was the term multitasking and the different ways that it is used. It seems to me that David really isn’t discussing multitasking.He  just uses multitasking to describe George Cuvier who apparently was able to accomplish an amazing number of things during his lifetime.  He accomplished this by having separate rooms for each task. Each time he entered a new room, he placed himself in a new context dedicated completely to the task. In those rooms he was able to focus only on the dedicated task. I argue that this is not multitasking. It is single tasking which is really the point of Davids post. For me, multitasking is doing two or more things at once. Like chewing gum and walking. Most of us can do this with little effort. Harder is rubbing your head and patting your belly. Most of us have to work at that one. Women are famous for multitasking. They cook dinner while supervising home work. Clean the house while talking on the phone. Often the tasks are unequal in effort and importance and very seldom are they complementary.  The consequences of lesser quality work are minor.

Keeping a spade a spade

So basically, I am just quibbling about semantics here. Using words in consistent ways and giving them clear meaning. I think what David is describing is not multitasking but single tasking. Just like George Cuvier reportedly did with his dedicated rooms. I am not sure that David is endorsing multitasking but by describing people who are able to accomplish many and varied tasks by focusing intently on each one to the exclusion of any distractions as multitaskers he may be muddying the water.

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{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Dave Doolin April 7, 2010, 9:27 am

    I try to make a distinction between “multi-tasking” within a specific context, and attempting work within two different contexts.

    A context is an emotional framework for productivity, and incorporates specific intellectual activity.

    Example: I can multi-task with programming and email, writing and email, but not writing and programming. (Which is a huge bummer)
    .-= Dave Doolin´s last blog ..How To Publish The **** Out Of Your Blog Post =-.

  • Ralph April 7, 2010, 10:11 am

    But can you chew gum with that? I think my big issue is that George was not a multi-tasker. Not really trying to diminish the point of your post which I found valuable. It does seem that all your effort is directed to being able to single task efficiently.

  • Matthew Needham April 11, 2010, 12:43 pm

    Doing any task efficiently is probably the most effective way to get the job done.

    If you focus on more than one job at a time you simply aren’t focused.
    .-= Matthew Needham´s last blog ..Video: Has personal oursourcing gone to far? =-.

    • Ralph April 11, 2010, 12:56 pm

      That’s what I’m sayin’.
      .-= Ralph´s last blog ..Fremontodendron – California native tongue twister =-.

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