On Multitasking

From what I know about human productivity, focusing on a single task is the best way to produce quality work. In fact, one of my favourite books The One Thing takes this mono-focus strategy to the highest level possible.

One of the main challenges of modern lifestyle is the pace with which life seems to move forward. I suspect that the word “busy” might top a survey of most used words today. Time always seems to be running out. The more we try to synchronize ourselves more accurately with time, the more we get stressed and burned out. Some time ago, I also wrote why precise timekeeping is incompatible with our body and mind.

That leads us to multitasking.

It often feels like there is just not enough time in the day to get everything done. Our stress and tiredness make us unhappy, impatient and frustrated. It can even affect our health. You might have also heard from numerous sources the following saying. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Long ago, I wrote a post on taking life 1 day at a time, which is a generalization of the same concept. I was reminded of this while reading Dale Carnegie’s book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living in which he mentions an interesting story.


I want you to think of your life as an hourglass. You know there are thousands of grains of sand in the top of the hourglass; and they all pass slowly and evenly through the narrow neck in the middle. Nothing you or I could do would make more than one grain of sand pass through this narrow neck without impairing the hourglass. You and I and everyone else are like this hourglass. When we start in the morning, there are hundreds of tasks which we feel that we must accomplish that day, but if we do not take them one at a time and let them pass through the day slowly and evenly as do the grains of sand passing through the narrow neck of the hourglass, then we are bound to break our own physical and mental structure.

When I think about it, I feel that multitasking eventually slows us down in the long run due to the broken attention span. On the other hand, I also feel that having multiple projects at hand (e.g., two or maximum three) also saves us from the boredom/monotony of one particular project. While we dig the deepest when we focus on one thing, sometimes dividing time between two projects (not tasks) makes us going an extra mile because it takes the push vs pull problem out of the equation. When it seems that one is pushed long enough, we can switch to the other project and enjoy the power of pull. The brain gets out of the rut and both projects get accomplished. This, however, needs to be carefully practised, particularly understanding the difference between multiple tasks vs multiple projects. In my experience, this strategy works better when one of the tasks is a smaller one, more like a hobby.

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