How do we have more than 24 hours a day? We multitask, of cause. Only 2% of populace are supertaskers and can multitask well. Being a superlearner, is definitely a good stepping stone into becoming a supertasker. There are not many guides regarding supertasker training. Probably this article will be useful for you.
While I am developing some original content, I will try to reiterate on the subject from superlearner perspective.
- Some tasks mix well, some do not mix. Most of studies that show the damage of multitasking ask people to do things that are random or do not mix well. Planning when to multitask and when to be razor-sharp is the key to multitasking success. Generally do not multitask things that are hard for you, do multitask things you do automatically. The easy tasks and interrupt-driven tasks are good candidates to multitasking.
- Interrupt-driven multitasking. Some things are interrupt driven. We enter our code into a computer and wait till it compiles the code. We can try to remember the context in which we wrote the code and read some online article. Once we get a compiler alert we can stop reading article and handle the computer alert, then go back reading. This sort of context switching is something you can teach yourself to do, by jumping between locations in two different mental palaces.
- Multitasking easy tasks. If the task is easy, like simple mathematics, you can divide your working memory and focus between several tasks. Try practicing this with our multitasking exercise.
- Multitasking depletes working memory and makes you stupid.
If you think you can multitask and remain smart while doing this, think again. Multitasking reduces the working memory capacity, since some of the working memory gets dedicated to the background tasks. The more task we juggle, the higher is the toll on working memory. Jugglers and musicians have exceptional working memory and outperform the average person on working memory tests for a good reason: they need to monitor many things at the same time. To some extent this also works in the other direction. If you train your working memory by speedreading, you will find multitasking easier and more rewarding.
- You might be not as smart when multitasking.
Working memory is closely connected with intelligence, and the drop in intelligence while multitasking is quite similar to effects of marijuana. Let us say that on average, the IQ drops 15 points. This means, that if my IQ is typically 145, while multitasking it is 130, which is still fairly high. However, if your IQ is 110, it may drop to 95 which is below average. Therefore before trying to multitask you may ask yourself if someone who is somewhat dumber than you are can still complete the tasks.
- Multitasking saves from sensory starvation. As superlearners, you think much faster than regular people. You might not even realize it. Remember, we told to to play content at x2 speed when you can? Suppose you are fixed to x1 speed, like when watching TV. How do you fight the resulting sensory starvation? You can use a second screen (your iPad) to play computer games, read news and such. There is a toll: you may miss some key scenes and fast-paced sequences. However, you will get 95% right, and you can fill the small percentage you missed afterwards.
- Do not multitask critical tasks. Texting while driving may be a bad idea, because if you miss a moment you may die. You would prefer a surgeon to have razor-sharp focus when cutting your body. Some tasks are simply too critical to miss a moment of them. Do not multitask them. If you have precious moments with your loved ones, multitasking may be a bad idea. However, if missing out is a viable option, do multitask.
- Multitasking is a way of focus control. Typically our focus gets tired from staying razor sharp for long periods, and then multitasking relaxes it. If you had a long period of “flow”, when you were extremely focused on something, you can multitask to break it. In the same way, if you have been multitasking for a while, your focus gets tired, simple focused activity may be the remedy then. When planning daily routine it is best to switch between multitasking and focused activity. For example project manager’s routine includes meetings/conferences (high multitasking) and planning (highly focused activity). Try to mix and match between them if you can.
- Procrastination is critical for productivity. Our focus gets tired and depleted from use. Probably this has something to do with brain chemistry and the way it processes dopamine. When our focus gets tired we procrastinate. Just like our muscles need to rest between physical activities, our focus needs to rest between tasks. Sometimes Pomodoro breaks are sufficient, but eventually you will start to procrastinate. This is a good thing. Let your brain rest for a while to get control of your focus.
- People are different. Everybody can probably become a supertasker with some relevant training. Something that works for me might not work for you. Men and women have different multitasking capabilities. Mindfulness/meditation practice makes us more aware of our focus. Many of us have ADHD. Jonathan and myself have opposite types of ADHD, so most things that work for me do not work for him and vice-versa. Check to see what works best FOR YOU.
There are no 10 commandments for good multitasking, and I do not think there will ever be such a text. Reading is not the only time-consuming task we can speed up, in fact we can probably speed up most of our tasks. Multitasking may look like a simple way to do this, yet good multitasking or supertasking is a tricky things and it may take years of learning to do it properly.