2017-09-06 (last updated: 2017-10-29)

I am at war with multitasking

“Are you a good multitasker?”

The classic interview question. It’s great because it’s an effective filter.

That is, it helps candidates filter out firms which prioritize “being busy” over “deep work.”

Multitasking

There is abundant research demonstrating that multitasking hampers productivity due to switching and startup costs (apparently it also makes you stupider). This is what startup costs look like:

"Why do programmers need long periods of silence in order to do their job? https://t.co/F48s7Fpu96" via @hnshah
I plotted it on a graph 📈 pic.twitter.com/9DAkMBywAL

— Rishi Athanikar (@ARishi_) January 21, 2017

What I recently considered more deeply is how multitasking at work parallels the monkeymind at home.

Mind monkey

The monkeymind is that adrenaline-pumped feeling you get when your mind darts from thought to thought, dragging along all the emotions tied to them like cans on the end of a just-married car. High-alert, high-sensitivity. It’s most noticeable when you’re trying to fall asleep, but also appears when you’re anxious or stressed or overwhelmed. The monkeymind originates from the mind monkey in eastern philosophy, which represents the feeling of being “unsettled, restless, capricious, erratic and uncontrolled.” These are obviously not adjectives to which anyone aspires.

Quieting the monkeymind is something we intuitively recognize as good in our personal lives[1], yet it is something we ignore in our professional lives. Multitasking epitomizes distracted, unfocused and half-baked work. It is no more than the monkeymind in disguise. And it is no better at the office than it is at home.


[1] Tim Ferriss and Naval Ravikant explain in great length the perils (and sometimes utility) of the untamed monkeymind.