How many tasks are you able to do simultaneously? I was thinking about this the other day as I listened to an online webcast about Big-Data, worked on a strategic business analysis, considered what I’d blog about next week, checked to see if my vanished Outlook appointments had reappeared on my calendar (the unfortunate result of an iOs upgrade gone awry), and played with my cat (I have a home office). Of course, the news was on the television in the background and people were instant messaging me on my PC.
Multitasking has been getting a bad rap these days. Some of the criticism is deserved (think: driving and texting). Discussions regularly tout scientific research proving that the human brain cannot adequately focus on more than one thing at the same time (and do any of them particularly well.) But there’s a little secret that hasn’t been talked about too much, namely that some of us find multitasking deeply satisfying.
According to Wikipedia, the term “multitasking” originated in the computer engineering industry. It refers to the ability of a microprocessor to apparently process several tasks simultaneously. Today the term also encompasses humans juggling numerous tasks at once. A recent New Yorker blog pointed the finger at computers that are overwhelming people with too many distractions. But real-time information from all manner of devices isn’t going away. In fact, the emergence of the internet of things means that we can expect billions of sensors attached to anything you can imagine will us even more data every second of the day.
Behind all the criticism is the assumption that doing less and/or focusing on one thing at a time is better for immediate productivity and long-term health. It’s not that simple though. For some of us, it’s possible to figure out when laser focus is required or not. As a content creator, I can concentrate for hours at a time, tuning everything else out, when I’m writing. There are other times that I can tackle multiple rote tasks at once, and complete them successfully. Not to mention juggling—moving back and forth between various tasks. Multitasking can also be a source of writing inspiration. Content ideas pop into my head anytime, anyplace. This doesn’t necessarily indicate overload. The more items on my ‘to do’ list, the likelier it is that I will not only complete those, but additional tasks as well. And since we’re on the subject, can we dispense with the supposed universal premise that desert island vacations are a necessary antidote to leading a busy life? My ideal vacation, which I took earlier this fall, is a week in a vibrant city like London, jam-packed with cultural and countryside excursions from 8:00 in the morning through 11:00 night. I came back to work more refreshed than ever. If more data means more valuable, interesting things to hold my attention, bring it on!
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