Recently I was asked how many tasks a person can do at the same time at high level of accuracy. I said “9”. My friend said “there are 7 people in my group, so only 7”. I smiled politely.
I can do approximately 9 tasks MYSELF. If I had a team, maybe I could do more and maybe less. How do I multitask 9 tasks?
First of all for me there can be only one central or pivotal task. I suffer from a form of ADHD called overfocus and switching pivotal task is complex, long and sometimes painful for me. Pivotal task is the task that requires full concentration and a lot of mental resources, like solving a problem that nobody else could solve. Typically it takes around a month to find a sufficiently good approximation or reformulation of the problem, and all this time the problem is always with me.
Then for me there can be up to 3 simultaneous urgent tasks that require immediate action, like writing a mail, making a presentation, or drafting a patent. Based on urgency I can relatively fast switch between these operations, since I work in an organized matter and keep the work plan in written form.
Then there are 3 subtasks that relate to a bigger task I can do. For example, writing a script, executing another script and analyzing the script results. Usually this is a pretty manual task, where I need to wait for computer and not the other way around. Typically I use some sort of templates for recurring activities.
Finally I can squeeze in up to 2 low-key activities, like ordering lunch or reading Dilbert. Interestingly, these low-key activities are the activities I enjoy more than other stuff I do. So I try to be mindful and really enjoy these activities.
This way I can often find myself doing up to 9 tasks almost in-parallel at home or at work. Most of my friends prefer sequentially finishing 9 tasks one after another, but I would be overwhelmed by 9 full context switches [overfocus ADHD].
The problem is with the 10th task I occasionally get: “DROP EVERYHING! DO THIS INSTEAD!”. If the request is justified, my juggling is not sufficiently good to handle 10 objects and the whole well-thought scheme falls apart.