How good at multitasking are you? | NetEngine

How good at multitasking are you?

Olivier Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Let’s tell the truth: I am really not.

But the good news is: I am not the only one! Studies (deeply explained here) suggest that people can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves. Instead, neuroscientist Earl Miller said the brain is really good at switching between two tasks with astonishing speed. But we are not actually paying attention to those tasks simultaneously.

If we want to make a parallel with Computer Science the same thing would happen with a CPU if the current task is always preempted by a new one, without having actually the time to start.

Of course Sir Ken Robinson would argue that women are better at multitasking than men:

But I, as a man, need to cope with what Nature gave me. And this study as well as a recent experience showed me to avoid multitasking as much as possible.

Is multitasking really a problem?

I thought it wasn’t; after all, managing two or three things at a time does not feel like something impossible. I discovered it was.

This discovery was possible thanks to a friend of mine who introduced me to the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro Technique? Yet another time management method? Yes and no.

Let’s first describe it using this Wikipedia extract:

  1. Decide on the task to be done
  2. Set the pomodoro (timer) to 25 minutes
  3. Work on the task until the timer rings; record with an x
  4. Take a short break (3-5 minutes)
  5. Every four “pomodori” take a longer break (15–30 minutes)

Now, I have to admit that I don’t really fancy methods, rules… Of course people who write them are all claiming that you would get a lot of benefits by following them. But if it implies huge sacrifices (and it sometimes does) then that may not be worth it.

Plus, in our daily life, we are all applying our own mixed set of rules or methods we find the most suitable for us. We are obviously not following one single method.

However, I really appreciate a methodology when I can actually learn something from it. Learning something implies that this knowledge is available to you every time you need it (even if you stop following the given methodology).

Lesson learned

And I learnt something thanks to one element of the Pomodoro Technique: you cannot pause the current Pomodoro (timer). When you are interrupted by another task you need to perform, you have no other choice but to cancel the current timer.

At the beginning when using this technique, I was not able to achieve a single 25 minutes Pomodoro as this one was always canceled by new incoming tasks. The software I was using to keep track of my Pomodoro considered this as no work being made for the current task. I don’t need to mention that I found this quite rude.

I however kept on trying and I eventually succeeded in performing a good enough number of Pomodoro per day which of course implied better performance.

I then realized that, as a developer in a software company, what I am dealing with every day are complex problems. And what I found rude at the beginning (the software not considering any work on a task unless 25 uninterrupted minutes were dedicated to it), relates now really well to the study I talked in the first part of this blog post.

Your brain needs some time to start a complex task. If you don’t allocate this time then you are probably not achieving tasks, you are switching between them. And we all know achievements are good for Happiness.

What about you? Are you working or switching?

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