Multitasking myth

Recently while getting to know more about stoic philosophy and playing with cognitive-behavioural therapy I got to the conclusion that being present in the current moment is a crucial part of being productive and in a broader sense of life satisfaction. Being present simply means focusing on what we do in a particular moment without drifting away with thoughts to something else. Some people claim to be fully multitasking, but I strongly believe it applies only to simple, no-brainer jobs, not to creative thinking. Myself, I accept my brain as being a one core processor, that can’t really focus on few things at the same time.

I’ll start with some examples from my own life. Often I try to listen to podcasts while working on some simple piece of code. My job very often involves waiting on the build after some changes are applied. In this case, it makes perfect sense to just tune in to a stream of words and get back to the code once the build is ready. This seems reasonable, but switching between the contexts is not free, so I end up wasting some time going back and forth. Sometimes I assume that listening to the podcast in the background while actively modifying the code is a good idea but usually I end up not remembering much from it. The only time I can really listen to some interesting content while doing something else is when I do chores like simple and dummy refactoring that involves moving files and triggering build over and over again. Same in the meetings. After few years of working in teams of different sizes, I realised that I have to choose what I want to focus on. If I choose to do some work in the background I have to accept that I won’t be fully focused on the meeting itself and if I need to be an active contributor I probably should not open code editor during the meeting.

I also want to highlight another thing in regards to multitasking, this time on a bit different level of abstraction. Often while doing one thing we are somewhere else with our thoughts. For example, while surfing I could think what code to write to resolve an issue that just was raised and while coding I can think about a wave that I caught the other day. This leads to a lack of productivity. Being present in a moment and putting everything into the thing that we do is a crucial part of our daily life. We not always do what we really want and often we stack in the activities that are far under our potential because we have to pay the bills, we need to eat and want to live in a tidy house. I strongly believe that nowadays being stacked in a job that is not fulfilling is rather a choice than a must. If you don’t like what you do, change it, or at least find a way to gradually move away from it and go toward something that gives you satisfaction. If you cannot get away from things that you don’t like for various reasons I believe the only way to stay productive is to accept it and become good at your job whatever it is. So, I will repeat it because I find it crucial, being present in whatever you do and doing it as good as you can is crucial for your productivity. Ask yourself Why I'm here and why am I doing that?. Very often answering those questions will help you focus and make it great whatever it is.

On another level of abstraction multitasking in your career could be very tricky and give you a lot of headaches if not even sabotage your path. I try to focus on one thing at a time. It doesn’t mean I have to do only one thing. For a while, I was both running a startup and working full time at the same time. I cannot afford to simply dive into a startup world and risk a stable income mostly because of the family that I have to support, so I didn’t have much choice. My solution to that was to never mix those two worlds. I was working 8h in my daily job and only on the weekends and early mornings I was following my dreams about entrepreneurship. Never mixing those two worlds.

In summary, I will just write that multitasking at any level is a myth and if you want to do few things at the same time you have to accept that it will reduce the quality of everything you do. I realised that thinking about some coding challenge while I’m on a surf break won’t help me resolve the issue and will definitely make my surf session worse.



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