I stumbled across this interesting post on Creating Passionate Users about how multitasking makes people stupid. I totally agree. The logic is that its quicker to do four tasks one after the other (i.e. in serial) than to try and do the four at once (multi-task). This bit in particular that made me smile:
Whenever I talk about the big myth of multitasking, people always come up to tell me how they themselves just “have the kind of brain that can do this.” Riiiiiight. They don’t. I don’t. You don’t. And maybe you’d realize it if you turn off your cell phone, disable IM, mute the little “ding” alarm that says you’ve got email, and just sit there for a few moments.
The big problem for most young people, it seems, is that they don’t know how to “just sit there.” They get the shakes after just a few minutes without media stimulation.
I know from experience that its just not possible to do more than one thing at once properly. At work I concentrate on doing one thing at a time. If say I have to work on something else, I make sure I park whatever I’m currently working on in a good state and switch over.
Unfortunately I’m not quite as successful doing that in my own time. I tend to drift onto other things and end up not getting anything done. However, it is something I’m working on. The almost daily posts to this site are part of that process! I think that with work I have more motivation (other than the obvious) in that whatever I’m working on must be done.
As the post points out, and the Times article it links to, it seems that in todays modern world, there are more distractions than ever. I’m lucky in that my workplace doesn’t use IM or anything like that but I do tend to close Outlook and any other apps I don’t need, put on my headphones and some music and get on with whatever I need to do.
Programming is one task in particular that needs high levels of concentration and as little distraction as possible. I work with a chap who has amazing levels of concentration. There can be all sorts of noise (phones ringing, printers going, people burping) and he’s just in the zone, coding away. I asked him once how he could do that and he said he grew up in a noisy household (several brothers and sisters) and said if, for example, he wanted to read a book, he’d just blank out the noise. I wish I could do that!