Multi-tasking = Multi-distracting | Day 74 of 100

4min read

As an extension to yesterday's post, I have been thinking more about distraction. More specifically distraction with regards to multi-tasking. Multi-tasking is something we will all have come across. Trying to juggle multiple actions or priorities 'simultaneously' and often not giving any the focus they deserve or require. Though I do question whether it is even possible to simultaneously perform novel actions (action which is not passive) properly and with the diligence they require. Which lead me to the thought, am I ever multi-tasking or is it just multi-distracting?

I picture the example of driving. Typically on a longer drive I like to listen to a podcast. Podcasts by their nature are engaging to listen to, but I'm also driving at the same time. Whilst I'm cruising down the motorway this is relatively ok, there is not a lot of change or decisions that need to be made when driving on the motorway so I can listen to the podcast without hassle. Contrastingly though, driving through a busy city centre when there is a lot of stimulus to process and asses, decisions to make on lanes and directions, I will rarely have a podcast on. If I do, I would always find myself having to go back and re-listen because I won't have really listened and absorbed it. My actions in these two scenarios indicate that maybe I can multi-task, driving and listening, but only within a limited capacity. If their is too much cognition required to drive safely, then I cannot spend any cognition on digesting a podcast. One takes away cognitive capacity from the other, so we should be mindful of which we are giving priority to.

Multi-tasking runs further than multi-distracting though. I have talked in a previous post about decision fatigue, which is the idea that we can only make a finite amount of sound decisions before needing to recharge our decision batteries. In other words, we only have a finite amount of cognitive capacity to expend before resting. With this in mind, I don't think multitasking is an effective spend of our cognition points. Having to decide to jump from one task to another, and then back to the original task is a clear duplication of effort, to be avoided if possible.

Eliminating distraction and multi-tasking is likely pretty impossible for us. But minimising it is not. Similar to how I would only listen to a podcast whilst driving if the environment allows it, we can decide which low effort and potentially low reward actions we can group together. As long as we understand that the outputs from more novel or cognitively intense tasks will be amplified if we can provide it with a more singular focus, free from distractions. Striving for the flow state where possible. Not only that but we will feel more satisfied in ourselves with the output, knowing that we have given the task the attention it deserves. Hopefully I will learn more about this in my latest read, Deep Work.