Just listened to the 43Folders podcast on the Myth of Multitasking and I have to agree that we really do not multitask. We may switch between projects rapidly in a form of time slicing – but our mental processor does not have enough free cycles to split between two real tasks. This is not to say there are not things that you can do at the same time. It is of course easy to listen to a book on tape or to music while you drive but the obvious distraction caused by using your cell phone while driving proves your brain really does have problems doing two things at once.
Our brain cannot truly multitask – it does not have the ability to process interrupts effectively. G. Wade Johnson makes this point well:
When an interrupt comes in, there is a forced task switch just like with preemptive multitasking. Unlike a computer, humans cannot store their mental state on the stack and come back to it. An interrupt pretty much makes you lose all of the dynamic state you’ve built up. Anything you’ve written down or committed to more long-term storage is retained of course. But, the part that you are working on right now is lost unless you explicitly take time to save it.
Kathy Sierra writes about ‘being mindful’ as a solution to the distractions we call multitasking in her blog post about Your brain on multitasking:
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.
She contends we will get more done if we ‘practice mindfulness’ instead.
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.
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. … Obviously there are exceptions, especially if you’re quite content to let the quality of the work go down, or to be rude to the person you’re talking to.
Of course the biggest reason I don’t get anything done is that I spend all my time reading all these blogs!