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Omni-Tasking: An Illuminating Experiment

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by Greg Hintermeister Like you, I work in a fast-paced, high-tech business where I am constantly being challenged to increase productivity. For years this has involved multitasking across a large set of tasks that seem to constantly need my attention. While I feel I am quite effective at juggling multiple tasks at once, there are times I feel that the results, while complete, are not as satisfying as they could be. However, since the nature of our business holds up multitasking as the ...

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Discuss this Blog Entry 12

Randy (not verified)
on Sep 22, 2011
Multitasking is something like juggling. You keep several things moving but seldom get anywhere. The majority of your time is spent waiting on the next thing to drop.
on Sep 19, 2011
LOL! Loved this posting. So often techies get dry and boring so it is good to read something like this. Now I am going to head out with the kids and make a race-car track out of siding (seems everybody has vinyl siding tucked away in the rafters just waiting for creative minds to find a use for it. Thanks for brightening my day, AaronBartell.com
Steven (not verified)
on Sep 21, 2011
I am sitting here laughing my tail off because that is exactly what happens at my house. Now I don't have my laptop by my side (she would die if I did) But I am there with you on the other stuff. She gets up and goes and does something I have to pause the show. God forbid she miss any of it. Meanwhile I am sitting there looking dumb-founded as to what to do next. Since she OCD, there is no telling how long she will be doing what she is doing. I end up telling the dog to come here and when it comes to me I tell it to go and lay down. Then it looks at me and acts like huh, what did I do? I even try to change the channel to see what else is on and all I can here is "why did you change it" or I hear things slamming down in the kitchen harder than they are ment to me set down. So I just bite my tougue and sit there until she comes back. Yes I know I am whipped.
Michael Q. (not verified)
on Sep 20, 2011
Interesting realization. I'm reminded of a study (by IBM I was told) in the 1980s before I worked on my first AS/400. We were looking to upgrade our computer which was a competitor's system. We could go with the newer model of the competitor's system or an AS/400 B30. We visited sites with both the systems, got the quotes and ended up spending less on a B40--but I digress. The study by IBM was in terms of response time. IBM's goal was to always provide sub-second response time because anything slower allowed the user to be distracted and it took a significant amount of time before they would regain focus.

Here's a couple verses which document the principle:

Colossians 3:23: (King James Version) And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.

(James Murdoch New Testament) And whatever ye do, do it with your whole soul, as unto our Lord, and not as to men.

God knows when we put everything into whatever we do, we'll do it better.

John (not verified)
on Sep 20, 2011
Nice post. If you liked this post, I recommend www.raptitude.com. If I didn't know better, I would have thought I read it there.
on Sep 22, 2011

"Multitasking is something like juggling." - I have to agree with you there Randy. I don't know if it is just that I'm getting older - but I've become increasingly aware lately that if I try to do two or more things at once that all of them take longer and are not as well done.

Recent experiments with the supposed kings and queens of multi-tasking (i.e. teenagers) appears to prove that multi-tasking is a myth.

John V (not verified)
on Sep 21, 2011
For concentrating on a single task, and getting the most out of your time spent on a task, one great thing to try is the Pomodoro technique. You promise to concentrate your resources, thought and attention for a time-boxed period. This is but one Agile process to promote dedicated concentration to estimating and accomplishing tasks. But what I find interesting is when I do this at a personal level, it reinforces to me how hard 'concentrating' can be at the team level, and man-month level. http://www.pomodorotechnique.com
Don Kennedy (not verified)
on Sep 19, 2011
Great food for thought. We're often too busy to stop and smell the roses. Grandchildren help you with that!
on Sep 28, 2011
Jon... I think it is related to years "used".... when we were younger, we multitasked and thrived on it.. It still took us longer to accomplish the tasks, but we seemed to be accomplishing more (even though we weren't)... We are older now, so it takes longer no matter what we do, and it is more apparent to us that in order to accomplish anything in a decent amount of time we must focus.... So it is a combination of factors that affects us of the Sys3/38 generation... We got older, but we also got smarter... :-)
Gerald Dishon (not verified)
on Sep 23, 2011
Thirty or so years ago, I was privileged to hear Dr James Greenwood, then of IBM World Trade, speak. His insights into thought and personality types were exceptionally insightful: it was life-changing for me. Sounds like you are catching on. Enjoy the journey.
Jon Juracich (not verified)
on Sep 19, 2011
I've heard that the human brain is capable of dealing with two things at a time (mine seems to handle quite a bit less than that!). If you try to add a third thing, one of the others gets dropped.

It also takes several minutes (I've seen estimates as high as 20 minutes) to completely regain your concentration once its been broken.

The feeling of "getting things done" when multitasking is really just thrashing - constantly trying to get back to a task that you need to work on. You're working hard, but not really accomplishing much.

At least that's my opinion!

Sorry - I have to get back to work now!

Jon J
Stan (not verified)
on Sep 19, 2011
I guess it was a slow day at System i News?

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