Wednesday, October 17, 2007


It seems that we all have more to do than we want or need to be doing. The only solution for most is multitasking. The ability to multitask is considered to be a great asset by those who are concerned primarily with human productivity. The greatest proponents of multitasking may be today's students. They are the ones who can do their math homework in English class while taking notes and secretly text messaging their friends with the phone hidden in their pocket so that it won't be taken away. Is this really a good thing?

Maybe I am just bitter because I am lousy at multitasking. Yes, I can chew gum and walk at the same time. I can cook dinner and carry on a reasonable conversation. But generally speaking, I don't like to multitask. For me it is counterproductive. I may be doing two (or more things) but I feel like I am doing neither of them well.

I like to devote my full attention to whatever the task at hand may be. If I am reading, I don't want to be talking. If I am watching a movie, I don't want to be folding laundry. If I am writing, I don't want to be checking my email. Perhaps my personal aversion to multitasking comes from my training as a musician.

When practicing, whether it be technical studies like scales and arpeggios or a difficult concerto, the only means to success is absolute attention to the finest details of what you are doing. Anything less than this guarantees that you will miss the nuances of the music and thus present a mediocre product. I feel that I must be 100% present at any given time to a single task to be able to accomplish what I want, which I admit is perfection.

An inability, or an unwillingness, to multitask is quite frustrating to those who prefer no other way to work. I know that my refusal to look to the right or the left when I am focused on a single thing in front of me drives those around me crazy. Their propensity for overlooking details is equally frustrating to me. So, I guess we are even.

We all have a right to choose our preferred method for accomplishing our required tasks. However, the question still remains, is multitasking really more productive and thus more desirable than focusing whole-heartedly on one task at a time?

If you are curious about your abilities as a multitasker, here is test.

Dr. Meyer’s Multitasking Experiment
You’ll need a deck of cards and four quarters. Before you begin, pull all the 6s, 7s, 8s, and 9s from the deck and set the rest of the cards aside.
To start, place the seven of clubs to the left, the nine of hearts a half inch beside the seven to the right, then the six of spades, and finally the eight of hearts. Place each of the quarters about three inches below the row of cards in an even row. The quarters should be three inches from the edge of the table.

Part One. Numbers: Take the remaining 12 cards and shuffle them. Holding them face down, turn them over one by one, placing the sixes on the quarter below the six of spades, the sevens on the quarter below the seven of clubs, the eights below the eight and so on, saying the numbers as you place them.
How much time did it take?

Part Two. Suits: Shuffle the cards again. Holding them face down, turn them over one by one, this time sorting the cards by suit. You’ll put all the clubs below the club, all the hearts below the heart, etc., until you’ve gone through all twelve cards, saying the suits as you place them.
Again, how long did you need?

Part Three. Numbers and Suits Shuffle the cards one more time. Holding them face down, you will turn them over once again one by one. But this time, you will alternate between sorting by number and sorting by suit, starting with numbers. So, you will place the first card by its number, the second card by its suit, the third card by its number and so on until all twelve cards have been played. Be sure to announce the card as you place it.
If you’re like Dr. Kramer, you will spend a lot more time sorting by numbers and suits than you did using only one criterion.

I hated step three! I just was not born to multitask. I will continue to make my never ending lists and accomplish things one at a time. Rest assured that whatever I am doing at any given moment, I am giving it my undivided attention. I may not be as productive as you are, but in the long run, I may be more sane!

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