(de)Merits of Multi-tasking!

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Most believe that multi-tasking is more efficient than doing single task at a time. General perception is that you can do it faster through multi-tasking and quality can still be achieved.

Human mind is such that it is always loaded with multiple thoughts. It is rare that only one thought is crossing our mind at a time. If we have 2 or more tasks to perform and we try to concentrate on one at a time, then we tend to remember 2nd task – “Oh that also has to be done”! And in this process, we often land-up doing 2nd task also and that’s how we form habit of multi-tasking over a period of time.

On the other hand, there are several thought leaders, who advise against doing more than one thing at a time.

So, does multi-tasking really have merits?

Mystery of Mind

Our mind is the emperor and gives the command for everything that we think, experience or do. But, we need to understand one fact about our mindit can hold only one thought or image at a time! Consequently, our cognitive sense can recognize only one signal or piece of information at a time. However, such pieces of information, let us call it as train of thoughts, passes through our mind at nearly speed of light. Because of such high speed, at which the train of our thoughts travels, we perceive that we have multiple thoughts at the same time. In fact, our thoughts are discrete pulses of the said train.

Pieces of information in our mind are like blades of a ceiling fan, which look distinct if fan is stationary or rotating at slow speed. If fan speed is increased, then beyond a certain point, we cannot distinguish the blades. These look as one unbroken object – a disk. Same analogy applies to train of thoughts; these appear as if same exist simultaneously!

What happens, when we multi-task

Assume that we are doing 2 tasks in so to say same time. For each task, our mind has a train of thoughts. When we attempt to do these 2 tasks together, 2 trains of thoughts get mixed and hence, we alternate between the two tasks. It is our illusion that we are doing 2 tasks simultaneously; we are doing these 2 in highly broken manner. Our focus also gets split into 2 or into as many number as the tasks, which we attempt to do together.

Net result of above is that either we will commit more mistakes, due to diluted focus and then more take time to correct the same or slow down to avoid committing mistakes. Yet, we would have a false notion that we have done it faster.

In multi-tasking, either efficiency or quality or both suffer!

What to do, when you believe multi-tasking is inevitable

You do come across several situations, when you can’t help but do multi-tasking, especially if you face crisis. It is best then to break each task in cognizable steps, complete 1st step of task 1, then to switch 1st step of task 2 followed by 1st step of task 3, swing back to 2nd step of task 1 and so on. If you have observed some people doing multi-tasking successfully, that’s what they exactly do!

In above process, what you actually do is to take one step i.e. sub-task at a time. You do not actually multi-task. It is only then that it works. In routine life, it is not easy to follow organized sequence of steps of multiple tasks; most likely, you would create a mess! Under crisis or emergency, you are auto-driven to do that.

Maladies of multi-tasking

Our mind wanders uncontrollably and hence, it is not easy to control flow of our thoughts! On the top of it, if we develop habit of multi-tasking, it can only get worse!!

Some of maladies of multi-tasking are:

  1. Net speed of your actions would be slower and quality is likely to suffer.
  2. You would be less effective in your organization.
  3. You could be hyper active or sensitive and are likely to face problems in your relationships.
  4. Most mistakes, mishaps and even miseries are consequences of multi-tasking! 
  5. Classical multi-tasking causes mental fatigue.
  6. Successes would delude you, since you lack or have little of what is needed – Focus!
  7. Your mind would be normally cluttered with thoughts or ideas, which can probably make you creative but at the same time chaotic and confused most times.

Practicing to focus on single tasks or sub-tasks has all virtues; but, one of its great by-products is – it helps you develop consciousness!


4 responses to “(de)Merits of Multi-tasking!”

  1. Ashwin Aher Avatar
    Ashwin Aher

    Dear Sir, this is exactly what i experienced and so always retrained myself from so called Multitasking. Thanks for sharing…!!!

    1. Murli Avatar

      I appreciate your feedback! Thanks a lot for sharing what you have experienced!!

  2. Rudra Avatar

    You have aptly described how to break each task in cognizable steps. That’s the best possible way one can follow while multi-tasking! No wonder I do the same! 😀

    In addition to your suggested steps – what about starting to work on Task 2 while Task 1 is being “processed” or “awaiting something”? You may not have “completed” the 1st step of a task but if you are aware that the 1st step itself is going to take some time, why not start working and finish other minute tasks first…

    Well there are so many ways to look at it and do it… what matters is how efficiently you do it!! 🙂

    1. Murli Avatar

      Thanks for your views!

      What you have stated in 2nd para would work in those specific situations, where there is waiting time. What it means is doing single task or sub-task at a time. However, in typical multi-tasking, nearly all people mix steps randomly and that is very inefficient and problematic!!

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