Last week, a good friend emailed me a link to an article by Christine Rosen called "The Myth of Multitasking," which goes even further. It quotes one group of researchers at the University of California at Irvine, who found that workers took an average of twenty-five minutes to recover from interruptions such as phone calls or answering e-mail and return to their original task.
So it's not just me.
The "benefits" of human multitasking is an illusion. Looking or feeling busy is no substitute for accomplishment.
Here's a passage from the Rosen article that might get your attention, if I haven't already:
...Research has also found that multitasking contributes to the release of stress hormones and adrenaline, which can cause long-term health problems if not controlled, and contributes to the loss of short-term memory.Translation: Trying too hard to do the information overload thing makes you sick, and it makes you stupid.
For as long as I can remember, I've hated the times I've been "forced" to multitask, and I've loved those segments of my life when I've been free to lock down on a train of thought for hours at a time. I believe deep down that multitasking is bad—at least for me—and literature like the two articles I've discussed here supports that feeling in a compelling way.
Here's a checklist of decisions that I resolve to implement myself:
- When you need to sit down and write, whether it's code or text, close your door, and turn off your phone and your email. (Or just work the 10pm-to-4am shift like I did with Optimizing Oracle Performance.)
- When you're in a classroom, if you're really trying to learn something, turn off your email and your browser.
- When you're managing someone, make sure he's working on one thing at a time. It's obviously important that this one thing should be the right thing to be working on. But it's actually worse to be working on two things than working on just one wrong thing. Read Spolsky. You'll see.