Multitasking is one of those terms that gets pushed around a lot. We tend to put a lot of value into the ability to be able to work on more than one task at the same time. It’s a skill that gets listed on resumes. It’s a skill that employers are after and it’s an ability to that we expect people to have in general. For me, I’ve always been forced to ask myself the question whether or not multitasking is a real thing. This is one of those skills that’s taken at face value and rarely ever thought about. If you think about it though, you realize that multitasking is really more of a myth than an attainable skill. I won’t deny that maybe there’s a handful of people in the world with the attention, focus, and brain power to actually think about and work on two separate tasks or projects at the same time, but for the majority of people I think it’s highly unlikely and untrue.
I propose redefining what it means to multitask into a more realistic understanding. For me, multitasking entails having the ability to juggle multiple tasks and projects at the same time, but not actually working on more than one thing at any particular time. Sure, you can juggle multiple projects and keep yourself organized, but I highly doubt whether anyone can actually take in more than one “information stream” (coining this as a term referring to all of the information associated with a task, project, media source, or person etc.) and be able to act on those two or more information streams and further interpret them. The example I like to use is whether or not a person watching two TV shows at the same time can tell you what happened in both programs and further interpret what happened in both. Even a person can, I’d surely argue that they won’t be able to complete either task to the same ability as if they had only watched one television program. Under my understanding of multitasking, many people do have this skill and it’s something that can be developed. The reality is though that with this understanding when a person multitasks they are good at moving from one task to another and their associated focus, smoothly and with little resistance.
The Internet is something that makes it very difficult for people to maintain their focus on a particular task. Nowadays many of us suffer from information overload and those of us who are effective at dealing with this overload are the ones who are capable of closing the figurative knob a little. If you’re writing something, you don’t need to know what e-mails you’ve just received, whose messaged you on Facebook, or what the latest trending topics are. You just don’t. The Internet is meant to be a tool, not a detriment. The only thing you should have opened are webpages associated with your particular writing, task, or project. This is difficult for me to do, so I can only imagine that it is for other people. I’ve seen the negative effect that information overload has on my writing. I’ve gone back and I’ve noticed that there are certain posts of mine that are much more fragmented then fluid. The cause of this has been my inability to focus on the particular topic I’m writing about. You have to be willing to cut the information addiction. When all else fails, disconnect completely from the web. In a previous post about procrastination, I listed this as one of the ways to cope with putting off work. One of the major themes you’ll find in the study of productivity, if you will, is the value of simplicity and limits. You don’t need the all of the vast information available to mankind on the Internet to do great work, you need your mind and the bits and pieces of information that are necessary to whatever your doing. You further don’t need some complicated and complex personal productivity system to stay organized. Sometimes all you need is pen and paper.
A Quick Sidenote: Music and Work
Music is one of those types of media that can be really inspiring. I can admit that when I write I’m usually listening to some music in order to help me set a particular tone in my writing. It can be really helpful. That being said I’ve made a significant observation about what type of music helps and what kind of music can deter your writing/focus. In short, I’ve noted that I can only focus and listen to music when the piece is instrumental. Whenever I try to listen to a vocal piece, it parts my focus between my writing and the lyrics in the song. I think that this is something that is true of a lot of people and even if it’s not, there’s is something to be said for noting the kind of habits that help your creative workflow and hinder it. Choose an instrumental piece next time and maybe you’ll see a change in your work.