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Thread: The Myth of Multi-tasking

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    Senior Member VajraYaya's Avatar
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    The Myth of Multi-tasking

    I always got a laugh when I'd hear people pridefully proclaiming their multi-tasking prowess.. I would always tell them that if you're multi-tasking you are doing a bunch of things badly..

    I saw the whole multi-tasking idea take hold in the late 80s or early 90s. Some time after various corporations, in order to show 'growth' or an ever increasing profit, would start to lay off people. Workplaces went from having adequate numbers of people to get all the work done, to the present condition where corporate and government workplaces are so understaffed that there is too much work than can be done in a typical day. The idea of multitasking, I believe was introduced, to appeal to people's egos, to give them a fake skill to be proud of and to try to master and, really, distract them from the fact that there simply is too much work to do and they'll never have time to be able to do any of it well.


    I saw this interesting tidbit in my local paper today. What do you think?

    Multi-tasking doesn't work because it doesn't exist

    By: Philippe Erhard

    MULTI-TASKING was popular in the business world for many years. It was thought that with proper training, our mind would be able to work faster and manage several tasks at once -- a perfect fit with our developing technology.

    Unfortunately, evidence to the contrary is accumulating, and study after study shows multi-tasking is almost like working part time. It decreases our productivity by 40 per cent. It takes an incredible 25 minutes to recover from a simple interruption such as a phone call or email, and it is estimated that multi-tasking costs the U.S. economy $650 billion a year in lost productivity.

    You may wonder why multi-tasking is not effective. The reason is simple: Multi-tasking doesn't work because it doesn't exist. Even with years of training, our mind is only capable of having one thought at a time or doing one task at a time. When we believe we are multi-tasking, we are in fact switching back and forth from task to task. The process is fast and gives us the illusion of doing several things at once. This practice, done on a daily basis, is not only ineffective, but it has many negative effects on our life. It leads to a new condition called ADT, attention deficit trait. When overloaded with incoming messages and competing tasks, we are unable to prioritize and become irritable and inefficient. By trying to multi-task, we use our brain less effectively. We are less flexible, our memory is decreased and our thinking becomes very quick, but also very shallow -- a dangerous combination.

    Our personality and social life are also influenced by multi-tasking. We grow impatient, dissatisfied with slowness and uncomfortable with silence. We develop difficulties in communicating and developing deep relationships.

    Multi-tasking is dangerous. We know about driving and texting starting to cause more motor vehicle accidents than drunk driving, but it is becoming more and more frequent to hear stories of injured pedestrians unaware they were crossing a busy street while texting.

    It is crucial to stop this ineffective and dangerous habit.

    First we need to control the technology around us by at least turning off audible and visual alerts for email and only check them at specific prearranged times.

    The Pomodoro technique is simple and effective in helping us control multi-tasking. The basic principles are as follows:

    • We structure our day by writing down the tasks that need to be accomplished.
    • Then we prioritize our tasks and choose a task that ranks highest in the priority list and commit to finish it.
    • We work on it for 25 minutes straight without interruption.
    • After 25 minutes, we take a five-minute break.
    • After the break, we return to the task for another uninterrupted 25 minutes and continue the process until the task is finished.


    It is easy to remember and will help us stop the damage caused by multi-tasking not only in our work life, but also in our personal life. We need to recognize that single-tasking will not only make us more efficient, but will improve our relationships and our brain functioning.

    Philippe Erhard is a sports medicine physician in Winnipeg, originally from France, and author of the book Being: A Hiking Guide through Life.

    Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 3, 2014 A9
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    Senior Member Adam Bomm's Avatar
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    Re: The Myth of Multi-tasking

    you won't get any argument from me and that's for sure...

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    Re: The Myth of Multi-tasking

    So basically employers are asking for people who think fast which doesn't automatically equate efficiency or productivity?

    My version of multi tasking is setting 10 tasks in motion and attempting to get them all started at the same time, and forgetting 8 of them.
    Last edited by 9eagle9; 02-03-2014 at 02:23 PM.

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    Senior Member Zook_e_Pi's Avatar
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    Re: The Myth of Multi-tasking

    What do I think?

    Multi-tasking exists.

    There is ample proof for its existence. For example, we have five senses, but we don't wait for each sense to report to us in sequence. Our subconscious synthesizes the sensory inputs in parallel, and has been doing so ever since our birth and being. That's an example of multi-tasking. When our awareness is triggered, we perceive tasks as singular, sequential acts ... but while our conscious awake mind mono-tasks, our subconscious mind continues to receive multiple inputs, e.g. multi-tasks.

    In mathematical terms, we perform N number of tasks per second; however, (N-1) of those tasks are involuntary (at any given moment) and one task is voluntary. Voluntary maps to the conscious mind, involuntary maps to the subconscious mind; and both tasks occur when we are awake. When we are asleep, all tasks become involuntary.



    Pax

    ps: I think the original paper is largely a semantic inquiry. Indeed, one can make the argument there is no such thing as single-tasking ... not if we combine conscious and subconscious tasks. Of course, if we restrict the discussion to conscious tasking, then every human task is sequential. And there is no great body of evidence to suggest that shifting our organic processor from partial task to partial task to partial task ... as opposed to full task to full task to full task ... has a significant negative impact on the completion of any of the individual tasks. Indeed, sometimes when one task hits a wall, it's better to shift to another task, then come back to complete the first task ... otherwise our organic processor will overheat. IMO.

    ps2: Phillipe Erhard makes a good argument for single-tasking, just not a comprehensive one ... for single-tasking is just one state of the mind. Indeed, we can borrow from the computer model here. The computer server is an example of a multi-tasking system. So is the human brain. While our motor mouth utters one thought, the brain is already processing another thought for motor delivery. As it were. Only one thought can be loaded onto the delivery truck at a time ... but that doesn't mean that other thoughts don't coexist in the brain matrix. They do and are waiting for the next delivery truck.

    ps3: Dr. Erhard is a reductionist. If he had his druthers, we would all be sent back to the metaphorical equivalent of line editors ... and dispossessed of screen editors and graphics.

    ps4: I'm multi-tasking now as I type ... and simultaneously thinking of what I should have for supper tonite ... take-out or leftovers? In the gap between thoughts, I'm practicing Strawberry Fields on an air keyboard.

    Last edited by Zook_e_Pi; 02-03-2014 at 02:27 PM.

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    Re: The Myth of Multi-tasking

    I understand what you mean by the subconscious deployment. You may be doing one thing but there's fifty others going in the subconscious. The sort of tasking employers are looking for are brand described in the OP which is a bit harder to achieve. Mentally when one is learning to ride a horse one tries to think of 20 things at the same time. YOU HAVE to but you can't because most the rest of you hasn't learned how. It is hugely impossible to get someone NOT to kick and pull on their reins at the same time right out the starting gate. It sounds simple but people pull and push at the same time because the mind is trying to do two things at the same time because they are THINKING about it, instead of just doing it. Nothing results from this because the horse is told to stop and go at the same time so they do nothing.

    Eventually the body just takes over and the thought process no longer gets in a tug of war with itself.

    Its sorta impossible to get someone to hear you even when they are thinking.

    s4: I'm multi-tasking now as I type ... and simultaneously thinking of what I should have for supper tonite ... take-out or leftovers? In the gap between thoughts, I'm practicing Strawberry Fields on an air keyboard.

    Typing is like driving. You can think about what you are having for supper tonight while driving without running into a tree. You don't have to think about what you are typing because you know what you want to type and don't have to think about so can think about supper instead. If you know how to play music you don't have to think about that either. There's two knows and only one think there.

    Post post script: Tell an employer that you were thinking about supper and playing air guitar while you are clocked in and see if you will be typing memos for them the next week... /)
    Last edited by 9eagle9; 02-03-2014 at 02:49 PM.

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    Senior Member Zook_e_Pi's Avatar
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    Re: The Myth of Multi-tasking

    Quote Originally Posted by 9eagle9 View Post
    I understand what you mean by the subconscious deployment. You may be doing one thing but there's fifty others going in the subconscious. The sort of tasking employers are looking for are brand described in the OP which is a bit harder to achieve. Mentally when one is learning to ride a horse one tries to think of 20 things at the same time. YOU HAVE to but you can't because most the rest of you hasn't learned how. It is hugely impossible to get someone NOT to kick and pull on their reins at the same time right out the starting gate. It sounds simple but people pull and push at the same time because the mind is trying to do two things at the same time because they are THINKING about it, instead of just doing it. Nothing results from this because the horse is told to stop and go at the same time so they do nothing.

    Eventually the body just takes over and the thought process no longer gets in a tug of war with itself.

    Its sorta impossible to get someone to hear you even when they are thinking.
    We need to define what multitasking is ... and understand what it isn't.

    Multitasking is not doing multiple tasks in the same singularity of time. Each singularity abides its own task. A collection of singularities abides multiple tasks. The human mind cannot perceive singularity of time. It takes approx. 0.25 seconds to react to most things let alone process those things in any meaningful way. Ergo, a human mind only processes collections of time singularity, not time singularities themselves. To wit, an interval of time and not a point of time.

    That said, a serial processing paradigm cannot be distinguished from a parallel processing paradigm when the interval of time is sufficiently small that it is less than the human reaction time, or in our specific case, human cognitive time. Things can occur in series - or in parallel - inside the threshold interval of time required for cognitive function ... but both will appear to occur in parallel outside this interval. We cannot resolve the paradigms inside the threshold interval.

    Getting back to the definition of multitasking, we can execute several thought tasks in sequence before our cognitive brain touches them. The synthesis of multiple tasks is what the mouth essentially reports. We perceive the synthesis as a single task, but we've just seen that it actually isn't. We cannot resolve the subatomics or the atomics of thought ... cognition arrives with the molecules. As it were. So what is multitasking then? Is it better categorized as postcognitive activity or precognitive activity? That's the 64 thousand quatloos question, give or take a few quatloos.

    Supposing for the sake of argument that it is postcognitive. Then yes, I would agree that our mind can only perform one task at a time with any degree of competence. But what if we expand the point of time to a large interval of time? How many tasks can be completed now? Indeed, the definition of multitasking hinges on the definition of the time interval in question.

    In chess, Deep Blue can perform many more tasks than any chess engine developed by Radio Shack ... in any given interval of time. If we reduce the time interval to where Radio Shack Sherlock only performs one task ... Deep Blue would still be performing millions of tasks in that threshold interval for Radio Shack. As it were.


    s4: I'm multi-tasking now as I type ... and simultaneously thinking of what I should have for supper tonite ... take-out or leftovers? In the gap between thoughts, I'm practicing Strawberry Fields on an air keyboard.

    Typing is like driving. You can think about what you are having for supper tonight while driving without running into a tree. You don't have to think about what you are typing because you know what you want to type and don't have to think about so can think about supper instead. If you know how to play music you don't have to think about that either. There's two knows and only one think there.
    Yes, but both hard drive knows must be put into the organic RAM before they can be processed. That's a task right there. In short, knowledge is not the task ... accessing knowledge is.


    Post post script: Tell an employer that you were thinking about supper and playing air guitar while you are clocked in and see if you will be typing memos for them the next week... /)

    Countermanding one's motor mouth is an artful dodge ... and is a task in itself not to mention the most common task there is. Discretion is the better part of valor and the muzzle on the motor mouth. So while the motor mouth wants to elocute, there are multiple stays of elocution upstream. As it were. In a nutshell. So to speak. <---------- the thought occurred to me to say the same thing in triplicate while typing, another example of multitasking?


    Pax

    ps: For the postcognitive narrative of multitasking, again, I revisit my earlier statement: And there is no great body of evidence to suggest that shifting our organic processor from partial task to partial task to partial task ... as opposed to full task to full task to full task ... has a significant negative impact on the completion of any of the individual tasks. To wit, sometimes quality demands that we interrupt a stalled task/thought and come back to it at a later point of time. And if we interrupt many times in a short interval of time to achieve quality, that's the postcognitive narrative of successful multitasking.

    ps2: As a further example, if one is given 24 hours to do disparate tasks, one of which, say, is climb to first base camp of Mount Everest; another, to make and serve Baba Ganouche; another yet, to evaluate any two wines and any three girls in Tuscany; further yet, play any piece by Toscanini on a calliope; then mispronounce calliope with an ending OPE ... then I'm sure by the end of the 24 hour interval, one can legitimately claim multitasking on grounds that all tasks had been completed in the given time interval.
    Last edited by Zook_e_Pi; 02-04-2014 at 06:04 AM.

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