Mousa Halaseh

June 27, 2021

The Lie of Multitasking

Even though many published studies suggests that we should avoid it, many people like to think that multitasking == efficiency, or at least a thing that when done right, could boost your efficiency. 

There are many books written, talks given, and discussions had on how to do it and get better at it, to the point where some would even consider it a valuable skill. 

To begin with, let's go back to the origin of the term "Multitask". It first appeared in an IBM paper describing IBM S/360 back in 1965, it was used to describe "computers" not humans. Yet, guess what? Not even computers are able to truly multitask.

Multitasking in computing doesn't mean that multiple processes are running *at the same time*, it merely means that they're alternating one after the other on the CPU. 

As humans, we actually can multitask (to some extent). We breath, talk, and walk at the same exact time. But just like computers, we cannot process and give our utmost focus to two things at the same time. 

There are many documented incidents, horrible ones, where the sole reason of the incident was people trying to do more than one thing at a time (e.x. Distracted driving is the lead cause of car accidents in the US).

The question is, why some people still insist on multitasking? Is it because they have so little time? Does it give them the illusion that they're doing more? Performing better? The true answer is that the people who thrive to multitask are often the ones who lack prioritization. 

There's only "one thing" that matters at any given time of your day. The skill that we should all thrive to excel at is the one of identifying what task matters the most at this exact moment, and then giving it our full attention till we finish it and move on to the next one. 

Giving a single thing your full undivided attention is the only way to guarantee the most efficient and accurate result. One would be surprised to know how much can be done in 20 minutes when not a single distraction is in sight. 

Multitasking is merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time. — Steve Uzzell