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Multi-tasking is a Myth!

In today’s world it’s pretty common to hear about all the “multi-tasking” we supposedly do in our daily lives.

First and foremost we have to check our email, then our Facebook, then maybe twitter or our favorite RSS feed or some other source of random (and largely pointless) news. On top of all this, we also have to do our work (or homework) and pay attention to our bosses and friends and a host of other things, humans, toys, etc vying for our attention. With all these things going on at once it seems obvious that many of us have perfected the art of Multi-Tasking, right? WRONG! It’s humanly impossible…

“Multi-Task” the Buzzword

The term “Multi-Task” probably was created in some obscure way that isn’t relevant to how it’s being used today. In today’s world, the term multi-task was largely brought into the popular lexicon by Microsoft and Apple (mostly Microsoft I believe with Windows 95) preaching how powerful their operating systems were. They claimed that their software could successfully do two things at once, multiple tasks, hence “multi-task”. However, they lied…the early operating systems of the day could multi-task about as well as humans do today.

What is Real Multi-Tasking

Okay, so if the older operating systems didn’t do it (even though they basically created the “mult-tasking” buzz) and we don’t do it, then what is it? Well, it’s actually pretty simple. Multi-tasking is the ability to do more than one task IN PARALLEL. The key is the parallelitude (I just made that one up).

What the human brain does (and does very well) is cycle through multiple points of interest one-at-a-time. So let’s say that you are reading an article, checking your email, updating your Facebook and listening to your friend talk on the phone all at the “same” time. What’s really happening is your brain is taking all four tasks and switching your focus from one to another and then to another. It switches your attention so quickly that it seems that you’re doing everything at once…but you aren’t.

The human mind (along with the first operating systems like Windows 95 and later versions too) can only focus on ONE thing at a time. No matter how gifted you believe you are at “multi-tasking”, all you’re really doing is putting a little attention on a lot of things over-and-over. In one minute you could spend 10 seconds on one task, 20 seconds on another, 5 seconds to see what your friend is still jabbering about, 20 seconds on the “emergency” email that just popped up and finally 5 more seconds on what might be a good restaurant to go to for lunch.

What’s Wrong with Fake Multi-Tasking?

Nothing’s wrong with our human version of multi-tasking as long as you understand what is actually happening. Since you CANNOT focus on more than one thing at time (humanly impossible so don’t argue this point, just accept it) you might want to re-consider how much “multi-tasking” you do…or at least when you do it.

If you juggle a bunch of tasks over one hour, then you’re not giving any one of those tasks a full hours worth of work or effort. The most any single task would get is probably around 20 minutes. Think about that. If you work on something for an hour while juggling all these other thoughts in your head, you’ve really only done about 20 minutes of work.

Imagine you were working on something that would genuinely take you 60 minutes to complete. With your “multi-tasking” turned on it might take you 3 hours…OR (more realistically) the quality would suffer as your try and get it done with only 30 to 40 minutes of work.

The moral of this story is simple. Until God invents Humans 2.0, we can’t multi-task so stop claiming that you do (you know who you are, people so proud to discuss their multi-tasking ways when all they’re really saying is they half-ass a lot of things at once…yippie). You can only cycle your attention across multiple items at the expense of time and possibly effort put into the task (which could reduce quality).

So, if you really don’t care about what you’re doing (regular job stuff you couldn’t care less about) then “multi-task” away. HOWEVER, if you really want to do a great job, the best and ONLY way to give it your best is to FOCUS!!! Do one thing at a time and put all your effort into it, that’s when brilliance comes out and that’s the type of effort you’ll need if you ever want to become MORE than what you already are.

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