Time Management – Do not “multi-task”

“Multi-tasking” is cool. It’s the “in” thing.

dibert multitasking

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Mono-tasking is for the birds, the nerds, the oldies. It belongs in yesterday.

I want to fit in with the millennials, the Generation Z’s, the corporate-ladder climbing super multi-taskers, the middle-aged and the youth-wannabes who buzz around appearing to do many things at the same time.

I don’t just drive a car any more. I also talk on the phone and eat at the same time.

distracteddriver

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When someone is talking to me, listening is such an easy thing to do that I simultaneously attend to the text message on my phone.

woman-texting-while-at-work

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While attending a meeting, I also catch up on emails.

0esqe9rc2AeG2_1689

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Boiling milk on the stove is a multi-tasking invitation that is not easy to resist. I use the few minutes it takes for the milk to boil to attend to other stuff. The list goes on. I’m turning out to be a full-fledged multi-tasker.

The truth is I’m also discovering multi-tasking doesn’t work. No, not at all. I almost got into two accidents in a span of a ten minute drive through LA downtown one evening on the way to the airport.I was talking and texting on my phone as I was driving. I ended up missing my exit as well.

I noticed I did not fully understand what people were telling me when I was working my phone while they were talking. Worse, I was turning them off too.

I still haven’t fully learned from the deceptive multi-tasking trap the “milk boiling” activity lays for me every morning. More often than not, the milk boils over. I end up doing additional cleaning work.

milk boiling

Didn’t attend to me, did you? ![Source]

Multi-tasking does not work.

It actually causes lots of problems. Lack of attention to the work in hand causes tension – physical, mental, emotional and intellectual. Things take longer to do. Errors increase. Work quality suffers. Sometimes the work must be redone. Instead of conserving time, I actually spend more of it. Battling time and myself, I’m in a perpetual catch-up mode. Stress level increases. Happiness decreases. Creativity and innovation take a back seat. Instead of getting ahead, I actually fall behind.

Multi-tasking does not work because it is against the basics of how I’m put together as a human being. My mind can grasp only one thing at a time.

Before computers infiltrated and took over my life, multi-tasking was frowned upon. We had phrases like “too many irons in the fire”, “who follows two hares catches neither”, “To do two things at once is to do neither”.

The computers that I invented, the CHIPs that I developed, the activities and the abilities that I assigned to them, the multi-channel high-speed electron traffic I successfully created and the lingua of the computers that I spoke coined the phrase “multi-tasking”. Because the computers I invented could multi-task, I falsely assumed that I, as their creator, could multi-task too. In fact I thought I must do so to increase my productivity. After all, the computers increased their productivity through multi-tasking!

But I’m not a computer. I’m more than a computer but I’m not a computer.

In a computer, electrons travel simultaneously along different roads carrying out different tasks. I cannot travel on two roads at thge same time.

A modern computer executes parallel activities very well [Source] 

My brain, which actually designed such a computer, is an incredibly rapid parallel processing entity by itself. It is more powerful than the machine it created in many ways. It is an amazing structure literally processing billions of complex stimuli in 1/10 of a second. In addition it stores more than billion bits of information. But it has limitations.  It can attend to only so much, can process only so much and function only so fast at any given blink of time.

See this video Your Brain on Multi-tasking

If the stars in our galaxy were neurons, if the interstellar space was water and if I pack them all in a shell the size of my head, I get my brain. Well, almost.  It has hundreds of  billions of  neurons, hundreds of trillions of connections. And 80 % of it is water!

100bn_neurons (1)

[Source]

See this video –  Brain: Memory and Multi-tasking

The “multi-tasking” I do is really execution of discrete activities in quick toggled succession, one after the other. The execution is not a simultaneous action. The toggle switch time is about 1/10 sec. There is additional loss of time as neurons

  • travel back and forth between the activities
  • remember the unfinished stage where each activity was left off earlier
  • recall afresh the goal to be achieved for the activity it wants to do
  • restart that activity from rest
  • accelerate to full throttle
  • leave it unfinished
  • toggle to another activity
  • etc

multi-tasking phone call graph[Source]

You can see how this reduces productivity. Data shows that multi-tasking actually decreases productivity by about 40 %.

multi[Source]

In multi-tasking, I constantly and rapidly keep switching between activities. The more activities I switch to and fro, the more difficult it becomes for me to attend to those activities. The less I attend to them, the more errors I commit. Data shows people who do multi-tasking commit more errors. This causes redoing the work, correcting the errors etc. All of this consumes additional time.  Not the way to go if I’m serious about time-management. 

Even though my brain is a gigantic data bank, storing one billion bits of information over a life-span, its operating memory (the BOM – Brain Operating Memory) is actually limited. The more activities I thrust on it and ask it to do all these in a few successive ticks of time, as close to “simultaneous” as possible, the less capable it becomes. Neurons that do the leg-work hit a traffic jam and bottleneck, and must proceed in batches very much like cars entering a Los Angeles freeway. The processor slows down. I end up taking more time to do the activities.

mt4

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It does take longer to do things in “multi-tasking”. I perform slower and commit more errors. Frustration abounds all around. I’m tense and definitely not peaceful. I don’t experience a sense of well-being at all.

Science gives a fascinating explanation of how our brain works and why multi-tasking doesn’t. Brilliant brains have explored and are still exploring the incredible universe that the human brain is. There is more that we don’t know about the human brain than what we know. Read here  here

The sanatana dharma scriptures teach the same subject comprehensively and precisely. They teach about the mind. The mind is not the same as the brain. The brain is a gross entity, part of the annamaya kosa, the physical body sustained by food. This is supported by a subtle body called the pranamaya kosa. This subtle envelope is made of  of the vital airs that is present in us in a balanced way and that we breathe in and out. This is supported further by a subtler envelope called the manomaya kosa. This is our mind and our ability to cognize the external world through vision, hearing, smell, taste and touch. This manomaya kosa determines the “why” our brain functions the way it does. This determines the stimuli processing techniques, nature and limitations of the brain. This is the envelope where the electricity and chemical reactions in the brain convert to cognition, thoughts, feelings, impulses to act etc. This is the envelope that puts our stamps on things. All that we think, do and feel happen in this envelope of manomaya kosa.

My mind in this manomaya kosa can attend to only one thing at any instant of time. My mind is is also unsteady, unruly, obstinate and irrepressible [chanchalam, pramaathi, balavat, dhrudam – Bhagavad Gita 6.34]. When my mind is like this, how can I multi-task?  I cannot. So, when I attempt multi-tasking, my brain resists it and is unable to do it. Scientists explain this natural resistance and inability as limitations in attention, operating memory and speed of my brain.

Everything in nature does only one thing by itself at any given moment. Cells in my body grow and divide. During the growth phase, they grow. During the dividing phase, there is no growth activity, only dividing activity. Both division and growth do not happen at the same instant. One entity does not do more than one activity by itself at a given moment. I walk and talk at the same time. My legs do the walking automatically without the involvement of my mind which is focused on the talking activity. When I trip over an obstacle and fall, my mind is no longer focused on talking but on other activities like self-protection, getting back up etc. A snake moves to bite. When it moves, it doesn’t bite. When it bites, it does not move. My mind is not an exception to this natural law of doing only one activity at a given moment. It can grasp onto only one thing at a time. That is its design. It is not designed for multi-tasking in the true sense of the term.

In the ancient culture of India, and as recently as four hundred years ago, a highly-developed human skill called “ashtaavadanam” was prevalent. A person well versed in this skill is called “ashtaavadaani”. He could demonstrate eight-fold concentration, retention, memory, recall and handle extensive knowledge of various subjects. This is a “multi-tasking” human skill of sorts. The ahstaavadaani demonstrates eight varied mental activities  in an assortment of subject matters, with widely varying degrees of difficulty, in toggled succession to one another. It is a dying skill in India today and can be seen mainly in Andhra Pradesh nowadays. Fore more on this, read here, here. The ahstaavadaani‘s multi-tasking skills and performance are impressive and truly amazing. But he does not execute the eight activities simultaneously and does them in quick succession. With intensive training, the ahstaavadaani decreases the limitations of attention, operating memory and speed in the brain but does not eliminate these limitations.

Multi-tasking is wasteful, problematic and unnatural.

True simultaneous execution of multiple activities happens when my consciousness expands beyond my mind and take residence in the Seat of Love within me.

Till then, for me, mono-tasking is where it is at.

If the mind is good at mono-tasking only, how can I manage multiple activities so several things are accomplished in the least amount of time, to highest quality, leaving behind a feeling of well-being and the comfort of a job well done?

Bhagavad Gita teaches a way to do this.

With single-pointed and unshakeable attention…do the action well

ekaagram manah krutvaa… karmasu kowsalam [6.12,2.50]

Doing the work in hand with single-pointed unshakeable attention very well, fully in line with my skills and ability conserves time, promotes creativity and well-being.

Scout_Girl_in_ConcentrationConcentrating on the job in hand is where it is at!

This is a fundamental and essential skill for time management.

More on this in the next post.

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7 thoughts on “Time Management – Do not “multi-task”

  1. Truly enjoyed reading this post.This multi-tasking fad gave me a feeling of incompetence!!!.Now I can rest assured that mono tasking is normal…multi tasking is abnormal!
    P.S. : I’m guilty of the milk boiling over syndrome too!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Superb exposition on multi tasking incorporating factual figures and figurative facts. In nature one entity does not do more than one activity by itself at a given moment. I wish to throw more light on the difference between multi tasking and CPA ( Continuous Partial Attention) :

    Lind Stone’s Attention Project, and her superb views on Conscious Computing, Quantified Self, ‘email apnea’, ‘importance of managing vulnerability’, ‘distraction is good’ have brought her fame and reputation.

    Continuous partial attention and multi-tasking are two different attention strategies, motivated by different impulses. When we multi-task, we are motivated by a desire to be more productive and more efficient. Each activity has the same priority – we eat lunch AND file papers. We stir the soup AND talk on the phone. With simple multi-tasking, one or more activities is somewhat automatic or routine, like eating lunch or stirring soup. That activity is then paired with another activity that is automatic, or with an activity that requires cognition, like writing an email or talking on the phone.

    In the case of continuous partial attention, we’re motivated by a desire not to miss anything. We’re engaged in two activities that both demand cognition. We’re talking on the phone and driving. We’re writing an email and participating in a conference call.

    Over the last twenty years, we have become expert at continuous partial attention and we have pushed ourselves to an extreme that I call, continuous continuous partial attention. Continuous continuous partial attention and the fight or flight response associated with it, can set off a cascade of stress hormones, starting with norepinephrin and its companion, cortisol. As a hormone, cortisol is a universal donor. It can attach to any receptor site. As a result, dopamine and seratonin –the hormones that help us feel calm and happy – have nowhere to go because cortisol has taken up the available spaces. Read about email apnea in her website (Lindastne.net) understand how our relationship with screen-based activities plays a role in this fight or flight response.

    MRS

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear MRS,

    Thanks much for your valuable and interesting feedback.

    Continuous partial attention is another fad. It should always be continuous full attention. One activity at a time. We can experience the value and validity of this teaching on a personal basis in our lives.

    “Execution” is the number one problem faced by organizations according to a poll of global CEOs. Execution suffers because of multi-tasking and continuous partial attention approaches among other reasons. Our scriptural teachings show a clear way of how to do a piece of work well and handle multiple pieces of work very effectively, efficiently with full sense of well being. We need to hear them.

    Loving regards
    sk

    Like

  4. Namaskaram mama- Insightful and detailed writing on multi tasking. Before the advent of the technology for various wanted(on)needs, the common people should have given more undivided attention to accomplish their tasks but nowadays these new handy gadgets are extremely distracting and will power eroding for all who become slave to these contraptions.
    I remember reading a book titled ” Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose Your Car Keys but Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life” by Sandraa Aamodt and Sam wang who scientifically explain the difficulty of focus from the biology and neuron-based human physiology standpoint. I am linking one of their NY Times article that is a concise brief on their topical book
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/02/opinion/02aamodt.html

    Thank you Mama and as I said, I will strive to read, ingest and imbibe other articles in your blog with undivided attention and as the only task when I am at it.

    Siva

    Like

    1. Thank you, dear Siva, for your comments. I’ll read the url summary of the book. As you know, people who accomplish a lot are really experts in focused mono-tasking, conserving time, increased productivity, good quality work. The buzz word for this is OHIO – Only Handle It Once. Our rishis called it karmasu kowsalam. Thank you again for your kind feedback. I always learn interacting with you.

      Like

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