Actress Jennifer Connelly wrote in The Atlantic: “I do like to read a book while having sex. And talk on the phone. You can get so much done.”
Though some people are ardent multitaskers, surely there are some things worth your entire attention.
Are you a multitasker? Do you shave, text and drive at the same time?
Quite a few readers have written about boss demands that they work on two or more projects simultaneously. But evidence continues to emerge that we humans just do not do well when devoting our attention to more than one activity at a time.
Lately I've had the pleasure to work with a very smart individual who can listen to a pair of conversations and “get” every nuance of each, but this is a rare quality indeed. Most of us struggle with one, resulting in the all-too-common communications breakdowns between spouses.
My wife and I share an office. When I'm not traveling we spend each day working companionably together in that room. But she knows that when I'm writing or working on a complex problem interruptions are not welcome.
During those times my email client is off, and my attention is laser-focused on the task at hand. Hours go by until I'll suddenly realize the day is over. For me, this is an extremely productive way to work… but I wonder that is an artifact of being old. Are twenty-somethings better at multitasking? Does growing up amid the cacophony of Twitter and texting train one to effectively divide one's attention between multiple activities?
In their seminal Peopleware DeMarco and Lister demonstrated that interruptions cripple productivity. Developers need a full fifteen minutes to reestablish their focus after an interruption – and the average engineer is bothered every eleven minutes.
Their work, though, is a couple of decades old, predating Hulu, Facebook, YouTube and even the web. My college-age daughter watches TV while studying. I can't even listen to a rock station on the radio when trying to concentrate as the DJ jabber distracts me no matter how far to the left the volume button is cranked.
But having grown up in a household of seven I need some background noise, so chose classical stations. If the phone rings while driving I'll generally pull over for safety, and to give the caller my full attention.
But I'm an old guy. What about you? Do you multitask? If so, do you feel productive do so?
Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helps companies with their embedded challenges. Contact him at . His website is