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Tuesday, May 9, 2006

That’s Not Multitasking

You know when geeks think they’re multitasking in front of the computer? Heck, I often think I do. Realistically speaking I’m not... I only do one thing after another, no matter how many windows I have opened.

It’s like this: whenever I upload something to my server, or download a big file from somewhere, I’m switching to another task... say, photoshopping a picture. While theoretically this saves time (when you program too much, you hard-wire “optimization” into your brain!), I’ll mostly end up dabbling with the other task far longer than the download will take... so basically, I’m getting back to the old task after 30 minutes, even though the download only took 5 minutes.

At my last job (one big open room, a phone on every desk!), after a while I made it a rule to never do more than two tasks at the same time, no matter how smallish the third or fourth task would appear. ’Cause here’s what happens if you “multitask.” Say, you’re programming something on site A. Then the manager comes along and wants you to upload site B (maybe your team agreed on putting up a red flag on the desk if you’re busy, but your manager retains the right to overrule the flag with “ASAP” tasks).
Soon thereafter an Outlook alert pops up. Oh, it’s just one of those office joke mails – but if you don’t read them you’ll send around the same joke a month later, and everybody flames you. So you quickly glance through the mail, and then you notice the attachment doesn’t load properly. You end up walking over to your sysadmin, who has a problem with a script at that moment. So you help him with the script, but you don’t know the answer, so the two of you google for a bit. You find a page in the results which isn’t necessary what you were looking for but it seems interesting, so you... OK, you get the point.

Do you still remember the original task I was talking of? Right, site A... it didn’t progress at all for the last hour. And that upload for site B was finished since, well, you don’t really know, and you’re not even sure you uploaded the necessary 12 files, or just 11, because just when you started the upload, your manager came along.

No, this ain’t multitasking... that’s chaintasking. And it’s almost useless, though it may make us feel like we’re achieving more. What really happens is that we’re downsizing our attention frames – proud to have achieved 20 tasks that day, we might have only gotten around to do one or two properly.

Now, I have to get back to what I was doing... I was actually uploading something...


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