If you look at my resume, you’ll never see the word “Multitasking” under the skills section or within the description of any job I had. Multitasking is a modern buzzword created by people on an assumed possibility of the brain to perform in certain way. The assumption is that we never use more than 10% of our brain, but where did that come from? Ask any brain imaging expert and you’ll come to the understanding that, we never use more than 10% of our brain at the same time, but each function takes up a different 10% of our brain. In plain English, if we were to be able to do everything at once with full focus, we’d be using 100% of our brain. If that happens, we’d burn up all the sugar in our body in a short amount of time to eventually suffer a somewhat uninspiring death.
Let’s look at what multitasking is. Here’s a short clip from my life:
“MI department, Causa speaking”
“Hey Causa, it’s D, lead architect from T company speaking. I am on site and am kind of in a jam here. There’s an emergency on the production floor and I was wondering if we can brainstorm together to come up with a solution. If you can sit down for a minute or two to do that that’d help me greatly.”
“Shoot, I am all ears.”
- I cleared my mind of whatever it was that I was working on, took out my notepad and pen.
Long explanation of the problem including hardware specs, wiring, software
30 minutes later
“A few possibilities. If it’s a hardware malfunction, it could be cause by x or y or both, in that case, your best bet is to RMA (Return Merchandise Authorization) the boards. If it’s a software malfunction, then you can try x and y patch or rewrite the code in z ways so that it can go around this possible bug. Based on my experience, a blue screen at this point usually means power up failure.”
“That’s interesting, I thought I’d already made sure that it doesn’t go into that state…..”
Long explanation of how the code works
“That’s true, it can also happen that way. Ok so here’s what we can do for now, you perform x, y and z on the system while I do a, b and c here to check a few thing, I will get back to you with an update if I find something.”
“Sounds good. I’ll give you a call back after my tests are done on this side.”
- I put down the phone and notepad, switching my mind back to my desk with my hand randomly scanning different objects, hoping that some familiar motion will tell me that it is what I was doing before the phone rang. Having failed that, I then looked at my computer screen and read the top most window that’s open to get an idea of the program that was running. The memory of what I was doing smashed me like a thunder, however, the creative thought that was going through a solution didn’t come back, I spent some time staring into the blank trying in vain to remember what the clever solution was. In comes the sales guy.
“Hey Causa, how’s it going!”
“Not bad, just got off the phone with T company, quite a nasty problem.”
“Oh yeah? What was wrong?”
Short explanation of the problem and solution
“I see I see, well, keep it up… Yeah, so , about that problem from Mr.A , have you made any progress on that? What did Mr. A say?”
- Mind goes into deep search mode, repeating the name of the guy till another word surfaced, then I repeated the two names together, hoping to conjure a date, a problem, or a hint of a solution.
“Doesn’t ring a bell, which company or what was the problem?”
“It was company P and the interrupt problem when scanning at 500 fps.”
“Oh that! Well, no concrete solution yet, I am still writing some code to verify the bug.”
“Ok that’s great, keep working on it, oh and when do you think you can have the solution ready?”
“Hmmm, I don’t know, maybe 2 or 3 days. Say… next week?”
“Ok. Can you just email me with the latest correspondence you had with him and let him know that you expect to have something ready by next week?”
- Sales guy leaves the area, I sat down in front of my mail PC and checked some email. Answered the few that are quick and easy, flagged the ones that’s going to take a while to think and gets back to writing my program.
“MI department, Causa speaking”
“Hey Causa, this is T from logistics, I am calling concerning the box that you sent last weekend, I am just wondering what the cost of producing the item was and how much we are selling it to the client.”
“The B brand camera marked here going to company B? It says you are the one shipping it.”
“Oh that! Uhhh, let me bring up my files just a sec…. Ok yeah, it doesn’t cost anything, the client sent to us for interfacing and that’s all done now, so it can be returned to the client.”
“Oh, ok, in that case, here’s the tracking number.”
“What do I do with this tracking number?”
“In case the customer asks for it”
“Oh yeah right…. I thought they’d call you guys.”
- We then bid each other farewell and hung up the phone. Having completely lost track of where I was, I decided to start a chit chat with my co-workers about some new policy or how much my wallet is hurting from attending all these important events for my friends. Half way through, my manager showed up along with my team leader to set a date on how to split the teaching materials for the training class. Then proceeded on to discuss a particular big name client’s development project that fell through the cracks.
20 minutes later
- I looked at the time, 3PM already. I contemplated between logging and organizing everything that happened in the past 2 hours or getting some hot water to boil my tea. I opted for the tea and proceeded on enjoying a 10 minutes tea time, surfing the net and answering questions from random colleagues that popped by.
And the day continued it’s hectic pace
If you just look at the bullet part, you can see the thoughts that went through my mind and further feel the drag that macro-multitasking has on me. With each event fragmenting the previous, rendering it impossible to be reconstructed till eventually, I have to start a thought from the beginning and trace it till the point where I stopped to figure out the next step. The reason why these are so lethal is because they are completely unrelated field to each other: Programming, shipping, training to a few special client cases to recall on the spot without going through my files. Keep in mind, that all this time, I was micro-multitasking, i.e. making use of my mouth to speak, ear to listen, eyes to read and hands to write or type while shaking my leg all the while in nervousness.
In sum, I could’ve finished the program and be done with it if I didn’t have to multi-task. Multi-tasking have a tendency of forcing a person to serve several people at the same time and making promises that the person cannot keep in order to get them away whereas single tasking is the brute force behind working. It’s where real productivity comes from.
Yes, this story is not made up. This happened today and has continued happening since I-don’t-know-when.