Sunday, August 12, 2012

Multitask Myth

One of my childhood friends has been a teacher for many years. Good teachers are always going back to school to further their education. He found himself sitting in a class filled with mostly 20 something students. If that wasn’t enough to make him feel like an old fossil, he was the only one using pen and paper to take notes. Everyone else had laptop computers, ipads or iphones -sometimes all three at the same time.

My friend received an “A” for the course. Most of his fellow students didn’t do nearly as well. He noticed most of what his fellow students were doing with their electronics had nothing to do with the lecture. They thought they could listen to the professor and update their Facebook at the same time, but they could not. Sending a text to a friend and taking notes didn’t really work either.

In our hurried busy world, people like to think they can accomplish a lot more multitasking. Things might bet done but they are done badly.

There’s an old Sufi saying that “a focused mind is the most powerful force in the universe.” I’m also old enough to remember when “be here now” was popular.

My teacher friend was focused on what the professor was saying. His attention was in the classroom, not in cyber space. That is why he got an “A.”

Our attention can be diffused like a bare lightbulb. The energy goes all over, but is weak. Focused, our attention is like a laser, coherent and concentrated enough to cut steel.



  1. I always knew that I didn't "multi-task" well, but I just chocked it up to being old. I even tell my bosses, "Don't tell me something when I'm on the phone with one of your clients, because when I'm talking to one of your clients, YOU don't even exist!"

  2. Almost nobody miltitasks well. The best thing you could do with a cliet is give them complete attention.

  3. Up until fleeing last summer, I spent four years on the management team for an extremely large Corporate 100 project. I sent several of my fellow "leaders" an article titled, "How Multitasking Could Be Killing Your Business". The nature of the business demanded multitasking from many of the front-line workers. It was a popular email that got forwarded, but not a communication that gained me notoriety. Not good notoriety leastways. "Don't buck the status quo" was not something I could well abide by.

    There is a belief amongst those who follow Buddhism that one cannot live in the past or future, therefore one who is not focused on the present is effectively dead.

    Excellent thoughts for my day as always Sixbears.


    1. Congratulations on your escape from corporate.

      If they don't like the boat rocked, it's time to get into a different boat.

      Glad you enjoyed it BriarPatch.

  4. "Multi-tasking", I forgot what that was. I guess I am really getting old!!!

  5. Sixbears, have you read "The Four-Hour Work Week" by Timothy Ferriss? His basic thesis is that people waste 90% of their time at work.

    For me I find multitasking only works when I only have to think about one task. Cooking bacon in my Foreman is a good example. I cook it 5 minutes on each side. I only spend about 1 minute turning it, so I just set the timer and that gives me 4 minutes at a time to do other things.

    1. Heard of it, haven't read it. Not surprised by the 90% number.

      With the timer set, your attention can go somewhere else. Works for me.

  6. I can't recall hearing the term "multi tasking" until I was well into adulthood. I can recall an incident at my previous job, where I had a co-worker tell my boss I couldn't multi task and she should get promoted into my posistion. I just asked him how many of this persons projects had we personally finished because they weren't done. Then I pointed out to him the difference between multi tasking and half assing, is having no more irons in the fire than you can complete well.

  7. Mothers "multi-task" all the time.