One simple thought has just dawned on me. If all newspapers and blogs of this world are full of articles blaming the evil of multitasking, there must be somebody who came up with the original story of multitasking being something good. So I asked myself what exactly was that original story and how powerful should it be to keep busy thousands writers over the last fifteen years or so trying to defy it.
My research did not render quick results. In fact, most of those writings start with quite the same phrase about “us being led to believe that multitasking is all right”. None of them mention any names of those false prophets that “led us to believe”.
Then I realized that no such prophets were necessary because – and our anti-multitasking critics are probably right here – many sorts of multitasking (or task-switching, whatever you call it) have been a universally accepted habit for centuries.
Just think about this: one favorite example of “bad multitasking” is eating while driving. For some totally inconceivable reason, those same people would never object to talking while eating, and I am sure many of them would happily discuss the horrible consequences of multitasking while having a good breakfast. Well, I have bad news for them: it will take them longer to complete their most important task of breakfast if they try to maintain a discussion about working habits at the same time.
The world is not that absurd though, and it is good so. There is a conversation going on at every table in every restaurant on this planet, and people are just fine with it, even if their dinner takes more time (which it inevitably does).
This takes me to that other multitasking story already announced in the title of this post, namely the one of the bastion Saint-Gervais. Yes, the one from “The Three Musketeers”, and the action takes place in 1625, during the siege of La Rochelle. D’Artagnan and his three musketeer friends cannot find a place that would not be full of the cardinal Richelieu’s agents, but they need to have a confidential discussion on the next steps in their political intrigue.
Facing this sort of an obstacle, what do they end up doing? If you remember, they take their breakfast out and go to the bastion Saint-Gervais right in front of the enemy lines. What follows is the real heavy-duty task-switching between a) eating the breakfast; b) fighting three consecutive assaults of ever increasing soldier headcount; and c) finalizing their secret arrangements for the remaining part of the famous plot.
This proves to be quite challenging, but they succeed. Both their own troops and the enemy admire their courage, d’Artagnan is promoted to become a musketeer, their intended plans are set in full secrecy, and even the breakfast is completed within just one and a half hours.
Well, now at least one of them has now been identified. Alexandre Dumas must be one of those adepts of multitasking to deserve all the severe criticism of the recent years. Surely we can find some more now following the same logic, but don’t you feel something is wrong here? Many of us actually find those musketeers very sympathetic, right?
I have one hypothesis about what is wrong. We need to ask ourselves where those competing tasks are coming from. Are they what I want and decide myself or are they imposed on me by someone else? If many different people want many different things from you all at the same time, that means you are a Very Important Person and should ask your manager for a salary raise. But if this is yourself and you want several different things all at the same time? Should you feel like an inferior person and tell yourself to “want one thing at a time”?
Everybody can answer this question for oneself. In any case, you can sign up to Personal Analytics and see if you are really doing what you wanted to do. Even if you wanted multiple things at the same time.