Multitasking is a fairly common concept. It is something that everyone has done to a certain degree and is also one that many disagree on. Some believe it raises the pace of getting things done. Others think it is, on the contrary, causing you to complete two tasks slower if you do them at the same time, rather than one after the other.
We are all very familiar with the term multitasking: it is simple right? Performing multiple tasks at the same time. For example, listening to music while washing dishes or maybe reading a blog post while waiting in line.
And those are some of the ways you can do two things at once, however, it becomes more difficult when it comes to two highly intellectual tasks, as opposed to combining an intellectually taxing one with a mechanical one that is performed by muscle memory to a large degree.
Do you know people who seem to be great at multitasking? They show you how efficient they are and act surprised when you cannot keep up with their speed?
While your brain prefers consecutive actions to the constant switch, there are, in fact, people who have found ways to make the most of it in a way that is working for them. They are better at quickly switching their attention from one task to another.
The risk comes with the fact that while those people switch quickly, they are also susceptible to distractions. Which is exactly why multitasking is considered to be damaging to productivity in terms of attention span.
Research in neuroscience has determined that the human brain doesn’t really do tasks simultaneously.
It is however fairly efficient with switching between tasks quickly. And the switch in our heads is a quick consecutive start and stop command.
And this is exactly the part of multitasking that has the potential to become tiring and in fact more time-consuming. And each switch costs us a few microseconds that add up to slowing your overall performance down by up to 50 percent depending on multiple factors, including your environment. You can check out more fun facts about multitasking in the infographic below.
In addition to being potentially more time-consuming, the process costs not only valuable time but also energy. The more tasks that you try to string up, say… listening to music washing dishes and speaking to a family member, the more resource switching costs.
One thing you can do is attempt to do two tasks consecutively. And time how much you can do in a certain amount of time.
Then put them together timing the process again and compare the results.
This is a good way to test for yourself if multitasking is taking away or adding to your productivity.
Now let's be completely honest. When it comes to people who rely greatly on the digital tools will have to be able to switch between tasks in order to perform an assignment.
So it would be not only impractical but quite ignorant to advise developers to only do one thing and use one tool at a time.
Coding and problem solving require obtaining information, processing it, changing the process or the code and then test how efficient it is. All those, while done consecutively are tightly intertwined and you would have to switch from one to another in the order that is the most beneficial to your current task.
So here are two of the main definitions of multitasking:
- Multitasking means switching back and forth from one thing to another
- Multitasking can also involve performing a number of tasks in rapid succession.
Both of those are key in software development. Switching between tasks is not simply a programmer’s choice but can quite literally be a necessity in order to code and create adequate software.
So cutting out the idea of multitasking completely is no more productive than deciding to multitask as a constant practice at all times.
As you may have realized by now the key to effective productivity is neither avoiding it, nor abusing it, but rather moderation.
"Everything that exceeds the bounds of moderation has an unstable foundation"
You need to know when it is key to your assignment when you are leaning on it as if it is a crutch out of habit and when you are avoiding it because you think it is all bad.
Assess the situation and use it when needed, as long as you are aware that it means simply switching from one task to another rather than doing them at the same time and that it can be taxing.