I think when you multi-task so much, you don’t have time to think about anything deeply. You’re giving the world an advantage you shouldn’t do. Practically everybody is drifting into that mistake. Charlie Munger
The idea that forms the theme of this post is multi-tasking – and its effect on attention and results. I wanted to consider multi-tasking in the context of one day, Saturday 12 March, to see if I could learn anything (as well as bookmark cool things for another day).
Eve and I didn’t have any plans before 7pm, so I decided to go into work to tackle several items that I just haven’t been able to spend enough time on. After breakfast (at Brewristas in Glebe) and, inevitably, checking my emails, including the weekly digest from Farnham Street, and specifically Multi-tasking: Giving the World an Advantage it Shouldn’t Have.
I’ve seen several items on the perils of multi-tasking lately, including These Are The Long-Term Effects Of Multi-tasking from Georgetown Professor Cal Newport (via Michael Sutton‘s LinkedIn micro-blog), it’s a timely topic, hence the energy expended in the set up to this post. In essence, the articles suggest our brains are not really wired for multi-tasking, and it’s essentially self-defeating, keeping us at a surface-level of thinking and muting our ability to consider important, thinky things (if you really wanted a long bow, big thinky things like, ‘Do we have the brains and the tools to understand and account for the future?‘)
I decided to get on with some of that work and record some observations on the way. Originally, a secondary post, I’ve moved them to this PDF file Multi tasking notes 20160312, as they are not wildly coherent.
Conclusions and Follow Up
Working on a Saturday is obviously not representative of a normal working day, so I had the chance to focus on key tasks, knock them over, and dabble a bit with email, notes, texts and what-not in between.
One good thing is that my brain doesn’t seem to have totally atrophied and I know I could maintain my attention span for a lot longer. The only reason for pulling the pin was a dinner commitment.
The jury remains out on my propensity for multi-tasking at inherently busier times.
One thing I read at breakfast, down-stream from the original Farnham Street post referenced at the top of the day resonates with perhaps more significance than the multi -tasking thing alone:
The best way to identify how the world really works is to find the general principles that line up with historically significant sample sizes — those that apply, in the words of Peter Kaufman, “across the geological time scale of human, organic, and inorganic history.”
Will and Ariel Durant, writing in the amazing Lessons of History, say “all of the achievements of man fall humbly into the history of polymorphous life.”
To paraphrase, the Durants suggest that the natural world, and the world of humans, is among other things, fundamentally competitive. And that in some regards, individuals group for competitive purposes, and that by inference, I group with others like me as a competitive act.
Multi-tasking is eroding the capabilities of my group. What to do about it?