Multi-tasking Revisited

Found an interesting and entertaining article on multitasking today by way of George Siemens’ blog . I’ve been thinking about multi-tasking for a while now and I’ve come to the opinion that we have trapped ourselves in the illusion that we can do more in less time and that all we need are more tools to do it better. We ignore the costs to our health and sanity and this isn’t surprising since it seems our values (at least in the Western world) tend toward hyper-connectivity over just about anything you can name. I guess we’re worried we’ll miss something important. And we probably are – that’s the tragedy.

The thing is that us polychrons like to do more than one thing at a time and we’re not so happy following a linear path to getting things done. In fact, what parent doesn’t do more than one thing at once – at least some of the time? But multitasking has become a way of being – a chronic state. What’s more, multitasking is the antithesis of flow and flow is good for us. We need to feel fully engaged in our activities from time to time – without interruption.

It seems to me that “fit” and “context” are important. Doing more than one thing at a time may be a good fit for me but some are happier doing one thing at a time. And there is a time and a place for both approaches.

If I want to learn something new, I need to focus my attention in a more complete way than if I am picking up a few new ideas about something that I am already familiar with. If I’m having a conversation with someone, I want to be fully present (usually). If I am expected to manage deadlines, be on time and produce outcomes, I need to turn on the monochronic switch. If I am responsible for a team of people that work together in polychronistic harmony – all the better for me – but if not, we’ll be flexible.

So, while polychronicity may be good (for those so inclined), multitasking (as a chronic state) is undoubtedly unhealthy.

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