Dienstag, 4. Oktober 2011

On multitasking

Short story: Don't do it!

Somewhat longer story:

We probably all agree that we are the most productive when we are fully concentrated. Many refer to this sensation with the word "flow". The problem is that we often keep ourselves from reaching this state by doing multiple things at once.

The human brain can only concentrate on one thing at any time. The illusion of multitasking is achieved by quickly switching attention between tasks, just like processes running on a CPU.  And just like a CPU, our brain has a switching overhead,too. It's just way longer than a couple of nanoseconds. Once you have lost attention on something, it can take your brain up to 15 minutes to reach deep concentration again.

By multitasking, you actively prohibit yourself from ever reaching a concentrated state. The funny thing is that while multitasking we actually feel insanely productive. That's because the whole switching and reconcentrating keeps our brain just as busy as real work would do.

So do yourself a favor and quit all non-essential programs, shut off any communication devices (if possible in your job) and just concentrate on the task at hand. Try to make on honest attempt at shutting down distractions. Ask yourself: "Will the world come to an end if I'm not availabe for an hour?". You will be amazed by how much you can achieve in just one hour of concentrated work.

This recommendation can also be extended to teams. Working in teams is good, but solitude is equally necessary to reach high quality results. If you cram a bunch of people in a small room they will inevitably keep each other distracted. Be it by asking questions that could be goggled within seconds or just by tapping their feed, humming to their favorite music or yelling at insufficient specification.

Instead, give them each a place of their own where they can work in full concentration mode. A common room can then be used for discussions while taking a break or just getting some coffee.
If you are in the sad situation of working in such a noisy place, there is only one solution: Wake early and start working before everyone else. As a nice addition you get free afternoons, enjoy!