I'm Aza Raskin @aza. I make shiny things. I simplify.

I'm VP at Jawbone, focusing on health.

 

You Can’t Multitask

I can only think about one thing at a time.

Any girl reading this just going to roll her eyes and think, “Of course. You’re a guy!”. But it’s not just true for me, it’s true for everyone. It’s true for you.

And not in that way.

At first, this claim can sound fantastic. We can talk on a cell phone while driving to work, and we can compose complex sentences while typing. But, if you stop to reflect on it, you can only do those things at the same time because at least one of them is automatic. In the first case driving is automatic, and in the second case typing is automatic. You’ve done them so often that you’ve habituated to them: doing them doesn’t require any thinking. Can you still talk on your cell phone while driving through a rainstorm on unfamiliar roads? Would you still be able to concentrate on writing if you had just switched to a Dvorak keyboard? I didn’t think so.

In both cases the extreme situation frustrates your habits and forces you to actively think about what you are doing at the expense of your other task. When you are thinking about driving safely in adverse conditions, you can’t also hold a conversation. And while you’re searching for the “e” key, you can’t also compose the next line of your sonnet.

Still not convinced? Then try this experiment: Think about the taste of chocolate (that glorious silky rush of sweet earthy flavor) at the exact same time as you add 47 and 56. Really try. At the same time. If it makes your brain fuzzy in the way your mouth feels after you’ve had an unripe banana, you’re in good company: it’s impossible. You can switch back and forth really quickly, but you can’t actually think about both things at the same time.

Want another experiment? Try saying “I cannot do two things at once very well” out-loud while reading the next paragraph. If you are like most people (i.e., not a practiced speed reader), you’ll end up reading the paragraph very slowly, one word at a time in between your spoken words.

Software often requires us to actively think about two things at once: like needing to know if the current content of the clipboard is important (when you should be thinking about the edit you want to make), or whether the “predictive” text entry on cell phones has incorrectly guessed the word you want (when you really just want to be writing your message). Unfortunately, this is like asking us to simultaneously press two buttons that are 10 feet apart. It’s impossible, and it’s not humane, so we’ll make mistakes. But, it’s not our fault.

Not being able to think about two things at once means that we can’t truly “multitask” things that we need to think about. Instead, we cycle through tasks in quick succession. But be warned, there are costs. At each switch we risk losing our train of thought and even if we remain on track, it takes time to re-situate ourselves with where we were before the switch. The net effect is that it takes more time to multitask a set of actions than it does to do them sequentially.

Time for another experiment. Time yourself doing the following two actions:

  1. Spell aloud, letter by letter, “Jewelry is shiny” at the same time as you write your full name.
  2. Spell aloud, letter by letter, “Jewelry is shiny” and then, after you are done with that, write your name.

It took me 18 seconds to do the tasks concurrently, and 8 seconds to the tasks sequentially. However, if you practice spelling “Jewelry is shiny” aloud for a couple minutes, it’ll become automatic. You’ll no longer have to think to do it, and you’ll be able to complete the two tasks at the same time without incurring the switching cost.

What’s the lesson to be learned? If you want a boost in productivity, try rethinking how you multitask so that you only ever need to think about one thing at a time.

Even if it is about that.

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View all 274 comments



dl

Agree with you…but there are certain tasks that feed each other… think about adding a chocolate 47 and 56? It’s pretty close. Think about a beautiful sunset and the sing the lyrics of Candle in the Wind? There is thinking that you “think” and thinking that you “feel” …my job counts on multi-tasking in that way. People who don’t multi-task that way aren’t getting the magic that happens between the interaction of thought processes.


    Never been good at multi-tasking, and never will. I’ve learned that focusing on one thing at a time makes me more productive and allows me to do get a better result at whatever I’m doing.


      Same goes for me. I cant do 2 things at the same time. I prefer to do one thing with fully focusing and concentrating and then heading over to the next. People who say that they can do a lot of things at the same time are just lying…they might do them but the results are not convincing most of the times.


Sometimes when I’m halfway through a news article or blog post, it makes me think of something I should look up on Wikipedia or an email I need to send or whatever. Then I can’t concentrate on finishing the article. I hate that.

And now I know why that happens.


I think human multitasking very closely resembles computer multitasking on a single-core system. You can do “two things at once” by switching between them. I do this all the time. It reduces the efficiency with which each task gets done, but can be done.

Personally, I like working on two things “at once” if I have something tedious to do that I don’t really feel like doing. I’ll work on that for a bit, then switch to something I enjoy doing for a few minutes to recharge, then switch back again. That’s how I “multitask.” Maybe that’s not the same definition others use, but it’s what I do.



    Ciprian Lazar

    I was wondering if someone would come with this opinion. You must work in IT! :))

    I agree that humans might be able of multitasking, but not in a physical way. Indeed, in single-core/single-thread computer systems, there is no multitasking … physically. No operation is processed at the same point in time. Still, multitasking operating systems, implemented this feature by switching between processes at any given time. So, i also do things “multitasking”, where there is really need for it, organizing well any “fragment” of work, and remembering the status of all the tasks at any given time. Also, the time spent to do two or more tasks “at the same time” could be significantly lower than usual, filling each waiting time of one task with active time of another, and so on. Still, multitasking and its productivity depends on the complexity of tasks you might have at any time.


This puts me in mind of Feynman’s discussion of how we think differently, with the example of counting in your mind:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cj4y0EUlU-Y&feature=related


“If you want a boost in productivity, try rethinking how you multitask so that you only ever need to think about one thing at a time.”

And I would add – for as long as possible.

I remember an article where the observation was made that switching too often between tasks at work decreases productivity by at least a half.

Oops, I smell something burning in the kitchen, gotta go now…


Finally somebody said it. Deep concentration brings great results. Wide front attack drains resources.



Coa

I think you are trying to make a point about task specifc attention, and not about actual multitasking.

I can’t even begin to count how many design solutions I’ve come up while attending to something else..

Consciousness is far too complex to abide to what you are trying to say… I say this as a cognitive scientist while running the risk of sounding like a new age freak…


interesting timing for this post. recent research–according to NPR–demonstrates that people of do the most multitasking are far less effective at getting things done well than are people who multitask only infrequently. my interest in the issue is from a stress and stress management perspective. people need to know that in trying to do so much more they are really accomplishing much less from a qualitative standpoint. there may be geniuses out there who successfully buck the trend but for most of us the results aren’t worth the excess stimulation of the nervous system.

your mileage may vary. ask your doctor is relaxation is right for you.


the creative process of incubation–solving problems or coming up with ideas while involved in a completely unrelated activity, including sleep–is totally different than multitasking.



kl

Please don’t use JPEG for line art (I must use proxy that downgrades quality of JPEG and it’s unreadable. It would remain readable if you used PNG). Thx.



doug

I strenuously disagree. I often feel I am letting my subconscious work on problems in the background. I poll every once in a while to see if there is a solution, but if not I continue to let it run. Seriously. I’m not really thinking about it but when I get the answer it’s all at once, I don’t have to think about it.



doug

Oh. ok. Re:Dave B I see, you mean physical multitasking, a la rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time. hmm, When I’m canning I can have both hands going on different things, but I have it so mechanically laid out that it’s almost automatic.



dud

I multitask new things by making one of those things automatic. i pose before doing both things, quickly program myself to perform a first task and then start both tasks at the same time. One i’ve imagined and the other that i havn’t. So i basically multitask using automation.
to make sure both are being done correctly i then imagine myself from 3rd person perspective and monitor both activities at the same time. It requires me to look in a central position and think centrally.
Try reading something on the screen and writing something on a paper thats just under what ur reading on the screen. ie putting the paper on the screen. What i see and hear seems to make a big difference. Using as much of your senses as possible is probably yhte key.


I could actually do the speaking and reading thing. But i guess since i couldnt do the other tests as well as i could normally, that just means to me, speaking and thinking are seperate. I can say stuff and think at the same time, but the speaking becomes the automatic thing and i read with the rest of my mind. I think it could very well be just a matter of practice. If we had another set of eyes on the back of our head. I think since we had been so used to using both at the same time we could do things seperately and do them equally well. A lot of our problem is our limited set of tools, not the mind being non-mulittaskable.

A lot of the things have to do with using both the eyes and the hand, or eyes and ears at the same time. I personally need to look at what im writing to write well, and spelling out random words would need me to look at them to think about doing it. So im trying to use my eyes for two things at once and it doesnt work.


Well have you ever forgotten a term that you were desperately trying to remember “It was on the tip of my tongue.” You then give up on it, “well I can’t remember it, and forget it then!” – you move on to something else, some task or point of conversation completely different, then out of nowhere – blam – it suddenly pops into your head. The whole time you were focused on the other task, while in the back of your mind, without your conscious focus your brain was searching out a solution to your original problem. Yes we can multitask.



Dan Rutgren

Absurd! I drive and text at the same time every day and can do both at once no problem. Sometimes I even write code while driving. It’s perfectly ‘nsq qspdqpdhd…



Ryan

Except I wish you don’t talk on the mobile, or even look at it, while driving. Ever.


I’d be really interested to learn more about how men and women differ here. There are a lot of cultural ideas about it but I don’t know if any of them are true. Totally anecdotally it seems that women are better at keeping an “eye on” more things at once, being able to hold an awareness of many different moving parts. I’m curious how this would affect multi-tasking, or if diminishes concentration on one subject.

Anyway I definitely agree with what you’re saying and find it to be true – the other day someone called me while I was lost (driving) and I got totally confused – I had to hang up the phone in order to find my way.



Joe

You are making broad claims with scientific, factual implications that you have shown no empirical evidence for; despite an apparent effort on your part. Your so called “experiments” are arbitrary. I would classify them more as games of skill or mental acrobatics, and don’t actually address the fundamental issues you raise.

Basically, this is pseudo science you are presenting, and assertions of claims that you can’t prove are true. Formulate a testable hypothesis and then conduct controlled experiments, before duping yourself into thinking you’ve got it ‘figured out’.

To look at it another way, you’ve drawn some bold conclusions that are contingent upon one’s strict adherence to the highly specific definitions you’ve setup and labels you’ve attached to complicated processes that happen in the human mind. Things you seem predisposed to call ‘habitual’, ‘automated’, etc. are all abstract concepts, which someone else may just refer to as mental and cognitive processing. Ironically, these ARE processes that by all appearances do occur simultaneously, whether you define that as “multi-tasking” or not.

A better framing of your question therefore would be something like, “Is the human mind capable of processing multiple [streams of information] simultaneously, either consciously or subconsciously, and if so to what extent?” I don’t even like the ‘streams of information’ part of that so much, and would think of something else to replace it with. But at any rate that seems to me to be a bit more of a helpful direction to take this line of thinking in, rather than blind assertions.



    E

    wow, it’s just a topic of a blog….



steve

This has to be the best website layout of all time.



Grop

The answer is 103.



Jordi

I think the definition of multi-tasking in this article is a little contrived and seems to be tailored to exclude cases which would make it possible (i.e. it’s not just alternating between multiple tasks in roughly the same time, but the tasks have to be performed at exactly the same time and they also can’t be automatic).

The thing you are trying to say here, I think, is that we cannot pay conscious attention to performing multiple tasks at the exact same time. Intuitively I would agree to this, but I’m actually not so sure. It seems that attention /can/ be divided, especially across severeal modalities (i.e. you can pay attention to a visual and audio signal at once), but also within one modality (I’ve read some research that seems to suggest it’s possible to attent to two different visual stimuli at once). It seems that if this is possible for input modalities, it might also be possible for output modalities, although it doesn’t have to be.

Multi-tasking to me means to perform multiple tasks at roughly the same time (alternation is allowed). I agree that a lot of things will be less efficient when we try to do them concurrently. These would typically be tasks that require constant attention. I also think that we would not normally try to multi-task those things. A lot of things however don’t require our attention all of the time. You can cook, pay attention to the kids and talk on the phone all at the same time. In tasks that don’t require constant attention, multi-tasking may become more efficient than doing them subsequently, because it allows you to take advantage of the gaps in the tasks that don’t require as much attention.

The diffiulty is to not let any task hog all of your attention so you will notice when you have to switch most of your attention and I think women might be a little better at this. If this is true it might mean that men are more focused, which might explain why it seems to me that men are better in virtually every competition (and not just in competitions where there is an obvious strength or stamina component, but also things like chess, darts, golf, etc.).

I think I drifted off-topic far enough now. To end on a positive note: I think the post was well-written and the claims do probably hold for the given definition of multi-tasking.



    Indiablue

    I wholly agree! I don’t mean to come off as crude. But I just finished multi-tasking in the restroom. I am able to listen to music, play a video game, and complete extraction all in one sitting.


I think there are two aspects.

1) How much is available to us at once.
2) Working on more than one thing at once.

For how much is available, or having choice, according to the MBTI, this is the P/J preference, and is nearly evenly split.

As for working on more than one thing at the same time, we can only do one at a time, and frequent switching slows down both. However, having the ability to switch, and even doing it sometimes, many times helps Ps do what they are doing better and faster.



David

To put things in scientific terms, the cerebral cortex, which is where conscious thought occurs, cannot multitask. This is the biological cognate of the CPU, which also cannot truly multitask. Repeated tasks, on the other hand, are handled by the cerebellum, which acts independently. This is the biological cognate of all the dedicated hardware that is independent of the CPU, such as GPU.

This is how I understand the issue. Perhaps someone with a real biological background could clarify things.



Jeremy

So here’s what someone says, who’s performed a “real” experiment:

“We kept looking for multitaskers’ advantages in this study. But we kept finding only disadvantages. We thought multitaskers were very much in control of information. It turns out, they were just getting it all confused.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/30/weekinreview/30pennebaker.html?_r=3&scp=1&sq=multi-taskers&st=cse


    Hey Oto, Thanks for the fcedbaek. The 4th part is about deploying the app to Heroku. Not tests in this series of tutorials unfortunately. In fact I need to improve my use of Rspec, so maybe that would make for a good follow up later. cheers, DAZ


Nothing is impossible… :) Giulio Cesare could do that!



Sebastian

“i.e., not a practiced speed reader”

Speed reading doesn’t keep up to its claims. Woody Allen summarizes: “I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.”



    Alex

    I took a course in speed reading too. I use the techniques to control the speed at which I read. Obviously, we should do our pleasure reading at whatever speed we enjoy.

    I have found that this makes me memorize the kinds of books I read, without quite remembering an understanding of it. It is very shallow, and very useful, in its own way.

    You can gain an understanding of the material you’ve memorized with experience using it, and you gain that experience by understanding a problem, and recalling and applying its solution. You improve insight and creativity by having a broad vocabulary in a domain, and using it. Using the technique as a tool lets you be creative in other aspects of life, by letting you build solutions out of prefab parts.


‘Any girl reading this just going to roll her eyes and think, “Of course. You’re a guy!”’

I had to deal with this attitude all the time at my old workplace. Normally it would come from one of the most inefficient workers who didn’t want to even think about single-tasking. Alas, I continued my work and she continued hers in harmony.

Great post, I full heartedly agree.


[ citations needed ]



EJ

I believe a huge chunk of what you are saying is inadequate. Yes I do believe you cannot multitask unless a majority of the tasks you are dealing with can be done automatically, but everything past that is false. It is very easy for me to add two two digit numbers while thinking of a flavor (I was also listening to Tupac’s changes at the same time). I can also read and talk at the same time. The reason most people cant is because they read verbally. A speed reader, like my self, can seperate a visual stimuli (reading) from a verbal one (talking) and do them at the same time without missing a beat. You can press two numbers 10 feet apart if you have a really long stick. One of the drills I do to improve my multitasking ability, as well as my ambidexterity is take three words (all of same length) and spell out one with my left hand, a different one with my right hand, and spell out the third one. Check out my youtube video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VsjO9vMOEq4 and you’ll see some advanced multitasking and coordination. Trust me with practice you can teach yourself to multitask


I find it interesting that you implemented advertisements on your site, but are posting very rarely. I would willing put up with the junk for your thoughts, but I am disappointed that those are coming less and less.



Dayna Wu

I liked this…very interesting. Especially since I just saw an article about multitasking in CNN a few weeks ago discussing this.


Ever read Theory of Constraints or Critical Chain by Eliyahu Goldratt? Trying to multitask just makes you slower, and trying to convince resource management to not only believe it but then prevent jumping around is another thing.

Great Article!



steve

“…heavy media multitaskers performed
worse on a test of task-switching ability, likely due to reduced
ability to filter out interference from the irrelevant task set.”

From Cognitive control in media multitaskers http://bit.ly/zXXA7


According to me, Multi-tasking to me means to perform multiple tasks at roughly the same time. A lot of things however don’t require our attention all of the time.


You are the utmost extravaganza



Edwin Mateo

I totally agree with you in this.
Too many people tend to try to do this just to end up forgetting what they were trying to do in the first place, or end up doing something different altogether.

I for one, try to multi-task very often at my job.
I work at a fast food restaurant, and trying to take and order while you’re having another costumer pay for the other is no easy task.
Concentration on both tasks and lots of repetition make it easier by the long run. But most people just give up after a few tries.


I really hope the iPhone never gets ‘real multitasking’.It will just encourage “dead batteries” and “slower devices” and “virus running the background”.The iphone can already communicate with users from apps that are not even running.“Push notification” is MUCH better than “multitasking”.


If OS 4.0 is only for the latest two iPhones, Apple will face the fury of recent iPod touch users. Mine is only a few months old, and I will not be happy if it doesn’t even run the first major OS upgrade after I bought it.
The digital format is so wonderful because you don’t have to store stuff in 3d space. You are not forced to look through piles to find your item, you simple scroll through the list, ordered however you want (date, file type, name)


Except I wish you don’t talk on the mobile, or even look at it, while driving. Ever.



Ryan Daniels

Sorry Folk



Ryan Daniels

Sorry Folks. This blog is 100% correct. Everybody who said they can multi-task, you are switching in rapid sucession. The cognitive scientist said he/she comes up with things while doing somethine else. Hogwash. How does he/she know that, unless he/she gives it attention. What he/she means is that something automatically comes to their attention after the task, and it seems they have been working on it. Also, the guy with the video. That is automatic. You wouldn’t do well with tasks that are new to you. The brain doesn’t work that way.


    why do tasks that are “automatic” make a difference. This guy argues that you can’t add numbers while thinking of a taste even though both of those things are automatic. I can hold a conversation while driving and those tasks are automatic. Just because the individual tasks are automatic doesn’t mean you aren’t multitasking.



      Ryan Daniels

      Holding a conversation is not automatic. Automaticity really has nothing to do with attention. Well, it does, but it isn’t using up your cognition. In the case you provided, your driving is automatic and the conversation is the focus. During the course of your trip, you would occasionally switch between them, but you are not doing both . . .cognitively.



    livi

    I can play the oboe and the piano at the same time. Well kinds. I have to play the piano with my feet. But still. Can’t multitask, my foot😉🐾😎💖



Ryan Daniels

I have worked on this study before. You put anybody in front of me who claims they can muti-task, the the person who said they can read and listen to somebody talk at the same time, and I will prove them wrong. Psychiatrists, Psychologists have proven this concept wrong over and over and are always convincing people of their illusions. ITS AN ILLUSION. Another posts with big words and trying to convince people there is not empirical, yet nothing you stated makes sense. Automaticy is your brain’s pilot control, and has nothing to do with attention. It is weird, but true. You need to understand the concept of stimulus which you can only process one at a time.



Ryan Daniels

Sorry for the typos above, I was giving my attention to something else. ;)


hhahahah thats is a sweet post. At first i did not know where you wre going with it but I am ashamed to say that after reading “I cannot do two things at once very well” out-loud while reading the next paragraph” i treid really hard to read that paragraph and failed big time! hahah great post and I totally agree!


Intimately, the article is actually the freshest on this deserving topic. I fit in with your conclusions and will thirstily look forward to your upcoming updates. Just saying thanks will not just be adequate, for the exceptional clarity in your writing. I will instantly grab your rss feed to stay abreast of any updates. Genuine work and much success in your business enterprize!


i was on my bike on my paper round at about 8am on a sunday morning, and to my right in the sky above the golf course was what looked like a silver orb zooming along at high speed. as i carried on going, and watching it it became apparent it was just a sea gull but because it absolutely was early, and the sun was rising it was reflecting a silvery colour.


Just watched something go across the sky, looked on fire, not a comet or anything like a shooting star, was the speed of a plane, it faded before it went out of sight, not smaller faded but as if it went out, really strange.


This is very interesting. Now consider this; on a conscious level there are at least ‘two’ levels of thinking inside our mind. Firstly we have the thoughts which use ‘words’ – this is typically what people mean when they say ‘thinking’. Then we have a level of thought which uses imagery, insight and emotion. Both of these can occur at the same time.

Think about it. It’s possible to think about subjects inside your mind without actually using words. This is a very quick and rapid form of thinking.

Now the trick would be to get these two forms of thinking running parallel!


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Cedric

it is possible actually i have been able to do it multiple times before and yeah it is. for example i have been able to talk about what happened in the day while having another conversation of myself talking about how i was feeling at the moment also overlapped at the same time with random meaningless thoughts with an addition of music playing in the back ground maybe the every day average conciouss cannot think two things at once but when you reduce the valve (as presented by aldous huxley in the doors of perception) you can actually do that. I wont lie though during these occurrences that i have had i was under the influence of hallucinogens.


Agree with you…but there are certain tasks that feed each other… think about adding a chocolate 47 and 56? It’s pretty close. Think about a beautiful sunset and the sing the lyrics of Candle in the Wind? There is thinking that you “think” and thinking that you “feel” …my job counts on multi-tasking in that way. People who don’t multi-task that way aren’t getting the magic that happens between the interaction of thought processes.



Ben

I think that for people to re-learn how to single task there’s a lot of habit forming that will be needed. Do you think that there’ll be a part to play for designers of information, like writers, programmers, etc?

I was debating with a friend of mine a few weeks ago about the relative merits of cinema vs. theatre and one of the key points raised against my view (that theatre sucks) is that the director of a play can more easily focus the audience’s attention on a given character or action. Harder (but not impossible) to control the audience to that degree in film. The question raised is how that changes the experience of the audience.

I wonder if the same logic applies here, and if the principle of single-tasking can be applied to other more eclectic fields?



Aaron Milam

I tried the writing my name and spelling a sentence experiment, and I tried doing it quickly.
I ended up writing this:

Aaron is Milam

Perfect handwriting, letter spacing, and spelling, but I added the word “is.” Interesting.



Graham

This is EXACTLY the way it is and there are absolutely NO EXCEPTIONS! There are never any exceptions to the norm in anything ever! Obviously.

Okay, now, in sincerity, this article rings of an author who doesn’t have ADD and doesn’t understand it. We diagnose it as a disease (we over-diagnose, but that’s a different issue) because it’s not a good mental mechanism to have when coping with established methods of education and what’s traditionally expected of children (i.e. sitting still and concentrating on a single task for prolonged periods of time), but it’s an excellent mechanism to have, when properly trained, for multitasking in the rapidly modernizing world. It allows the mind to switch between tasks without the lag time and without needing to get back up to speed. (Think of a conversation with somebody with good ADD: they jump off on tangents but easily pick back up where they left off before each tangent. It’s the ADD-free listeners who have a hard time keeping track of the threads. There’s a discussion that can be had about the ethics of speaking in a way that loses your listeners, but now is not the time for it.)

The “I cannot do two things at once very well” task was no problem for me. I read the subsequent paragraph as quickly as I normally do and with my normal level of comprehension.

That said, your chocolate example doesn’t work for me because I can’t imagine ANY flavors, ever. The same way I can’t imagine the timbre of a flute, the smell of meadow phlox, or the physical sensation of rubbing my hands on the bark of a sugar maple. I’ve never met anybody who’s not a synesthete who says they can. I can imagine descriptions of them in words, and I can do math problems while imagining such, but that doesn’t count.

And your “spelling one thing aloud while writing another” also doesn’t work, because those two tasks occupy the same circuits in the brain: spelling. I can, however, very easily spell aloud or write phrases and sentences while calculating math problems in my head, because those two don’t use the same parts of the brain. I can hold a conversation while counting large sums of money or, as per your example, navigating unfamiliar streets in a rainstorm (both of these were put to the test while I was tour managing a band). I can draw while spelling aloud or conversing or doing math problems.

Any tasks that don’t require the same parts of the brain as each other can be run concurrently. It’s like a kitchen. You can’t simultaneously cook four different things in an oven (unless you’ve got lots of ovens or one really big one), but you can simultaneously cook one thing in the oven, one thing in the microwave, and two things on the stove.

The inability to perform multiple mental tasks at the same time is a result of traffic jams at confluences of mental circuits. If you keep them on different paths that don’t intersect, you’re all good. “ADD” is the name we give to minds that have that latent ability untrained. “Skilled multitasker” is the name we give to minds that have that ability (latent or not) trained.



Mark

“Can you still talk on your cell phone while driving through a rainstorm on unfamiliar roads?”

Well yes, of course you can. If you can’t talk to someone while concentrating on something else there’s something wrong with you.


I think this issue needs some serious experimental work, to prove the results.


ok then what about starcraft or starcraft 2 players do making 200 action per minute is multitascing or not ?


http://notdoppler.com/multitask.php this game its multitasking or not ????



Vadel

While I agree with the theory that you can’t often do multitasking without really relegating one of the activities to an almost unconscious level, I think the idea that it’s impossible is a little short-sighted. I’ve had two simultaneous conscious thought processes going at once, but it also stopped my walking at the same time. It was also a very right-brain vs. left-brain set of thoughts. I’m reminded of college psychology lectures on split-brained individuals. There’s still a common link, but a lot of the sharing of information changes when the connection between the two is severed.

On some level, we’re doing thousands of processes simultaneously both consciously and unconsciously. And of course, tasks which we have been better trained in are easier to do almost unconsciously.

I’m also reminded of muscle memory that an athlete builds up. Eventually it becomes autonomous, certainly, but that’s just the side effect of really training yourself on something. Do we discount something just because someone’s developed that specific set of skills rather than the skills to think of flavors and speak out the answers to math problems at the same time?


I had a long argument why I think that we can in fact multitask, and how large part of this discussion is in fact about semantics. However, instead I will point out the following.
The title of the post is “You Can’t Multitask”, the first sentence is “I [or you] can only think about one thing at a time.”
Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but “thinking” and “performing a task” are not one and the same; they are closely related yes, but not identical.

Moreover, when you bring up the example of talking on the phone and driving, your hypothesis is that we are able to do so because one of the tasks is automatic. That doesn’t however change the fact that it’s a task, does it? So automatic or not, it’s multitasking.

I will also quickly bring up multitasking in an OS analogy. A one core CPU cannot strictly speaking multitask as it performs each operation one at a time, however, for all intents and purposes, from users’ points of view, the OS is multitasking when you can have several programs running at the same time.

So, for all intents and purposes, in ways that matter to us, eating while watching TV or reading, writing code while listening to music, jogging and listening to radio, all those things are multitasking.

And yes there are tasks that lend themselves less to multitasking, like driving and texting, but defining only such activities as tasks, and then deciding to define other activities as somehow “not tasks”, or “automatic tasks”, or however people may want to call them to support their hypothesis, seems disingenuous.

So this turned out to be pretty long anyway, but do you see my point about semantics?


Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but “thinking” and “performing a task” are not one and the same; they are closely related yes, but not identical.


Sometimes when I’m halfway through a news article or blog post, it makes me think of something I should look up on Wikipedia or an email I need to send or whatever. Then I can’t concentrate on finishing the article. I hate that.


Except I wish you don’t talk on the mobile, or even look at it, while driving. Ever.



Sex

Agree with you…but there are certain tasks that feed each other… think about adding a chocolate 47 and 56? It’s pretty close. Think about a beautiful sunset and the sing the lyrics of Candle in the Wind? There is thinking that you “think” and thinking that you “feel” …my job counts on multi-tasking in that way. People who don’t multi-task that way aren’t getting the magic that happens between the interaction of thought processes.



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Sometimes when I’m halfway through a news article or blog post, it makes me think of something I should look up on Wikipedia or an email I need to send or whatever. Then I can’t concentrate on finishing the article. I hate that.


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There are plenty of things involved in this and it is very important as what you do term as multitasking. There are plenty of people doing more than one work at the same time but then the efficiency of their work is compromised.


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This issue of multitasking actually runs a fair bit deeper – it has actual biological implications for human beings. Read the recent book by Nicholas Carr, “The Shallows”, which goes into great detail, backed up by scientifiic research about how new technology is actually residing our brains – and not necessarily for the better.


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It all depends on how you define tasks. Walking involves the use of more than one muscle at a time, which, on a certain level of task definition is valid as multitasking. However, even advanced juggling can sometimes be classified as one task. Do you begin to see the problem with the word multitask?

The brain has many different ways in which it thinks, one of those being consciousness. With enough practice, a person can actually consciously think of more than one thing at the same time, though the separate trains are usually highly related. Any time a rapid decision has to be made, it is more effective to evaluate along multiple possibilities at once.

Furthermore, the subconscious mind is vastly more powerful than the conscious mind (though it handles a different set of tasks). The tasks it handles are still being thought about, even if they seem automatic. Once again, there is the ability to train the brain to reach a higher level of parallel processing, even subconsciously.

Now, trying to use the same form of processing for two entirely unrelated tasks will fail. So if you define multitasking in this particular way, no one can multitask.

It is a complex issue with the view points of each side usually dependent on separate definitions of the activity, which makes the argument relatively worthless to those involved.



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Except I wish you don’t talk on the mobile, or even look at it, while driving. Ever.


I use to be very good at multitasking but not any more. But I’ve been in denial about it for such a long time.Consciously approach one task at a time and stick with it. If the task is too large, chunk it down into sub-tasks and aim to complete these one at a time.



Bud McGinty

This is why I will not hold my cellphone while I am driving. If I want to talk on the phone, I use a headset. Additionally, I require that my kids do the same.

I once observed that the act of holding a phone in my hand made me shift my concentration from the traffic around me to the conversation. Wearing a headset seems to make the conversation more passive.

That said, I would recommend that you replace the word “automatic” with the phrase “learned activity”.

So can humans truly multitask? You are attempting to apply computer terms to the human brain. I am not sure that this is even a valid question.

Yes, I can watch TV and smell a stinky fart at the same time. Similarly, I can enjoy eating a good steak and lobster dinner while I appreciate the music of Rush over the restaurant’s sound system.

On the other hand, I can fail at reading a book while I become completely fixated on the memory of an argument that happened at work a few days ago.

Yes, we tend to multitask serially, as opposed to concurrently. However, to some extent, I think that it depends on the way the input is experienced by the individual. We have multiple senses and they are not mutually exclusive.


Every real man can do multitasks. Switch on your WLAN and try working with your Notebook in the restroom;-).
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My neighboor can park his car backwards while talking in his mobile. I’m not kidding: he’s a cop.



Ryan Daniels

YOU CANNOT FOCUS ON TWO DIFFERENT THINGS. When you are processing the “fart” using the modality of smell, you are not focused on the Television.

Neuroscience has put the final nail in the coffin. Using fMRI they can physically see the switching, and how the brain lights up sequentially, not simultaneously. Although, when the users were asked, they thought it was simultaneous. His other conclusion was how the brain is amazing at deluding us.



Josh

I don’t agree… Doing to things at once is multitasking.. you may not be able to think about two things at once but if you’re doing more than one thing at one time then yes you can multitask.. maybe not multithink but multitask for sure


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You made me feel better with this post, I was really rhinking I was weird, and I’m a girl…

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Thx for your post; So, for all intents and purposes, in ways that matter to us, eating while watching TV or reading, writing code while listening to music, jogging and listening to radio, all those things are multitasking.



Dave

Heres a story from the famous physicist Richard Feynman. Feynman was trying to learn how to track time in his head. So he would practice counting while doing various things, running, reading, writing, talking, or even counting other objects. What Feynman found out, was that he could easily read while counting accurately, but he could not count and speak at the same time. He shared this finding with a friend named John Tukey. Tukey also tried it, but what Tukey was able to do, was he could easily talk while counting, but he could not read while counting. Turns out, when Feynman was counting, he was saying the numbers in his head, using the auditory part of his brain. Tukey on the other hand was visualizing the numbers. Multi-tasking is real, so long as the two task you’re doing use two different part of your brain, and you can’t assume everyone performs a task in the same way you do. The reason you can drive and talk on a phone at the same time is because driving is visual, talking is auditory, not because driving is automatic. Reading a book can also be very automatic, but you certainly couldn’t do it while driving, even if you had a translucent display. Although, as you said, we can do a fake kind of multitasking, by doing that rapid switching, however thats a whole different skill.


I will also quickly bring up multitasking in an OS analogy. A one core CPU cannot strictly speaking multitask as it performs each operation one at a time, however, for all intents and purposes, from users’ points of view, the OS is multitasking when you can have several programs running at the same time.



Mark

While your argument is good, you have chosen the wrong name for what you are describing. “multitasking” is exactly what we do, we interleave tasks to make the most effective use of processing power. Before “multi-threading” (which is what you really mean) computers would start a task, call for some data from storage, suspend that task until the i/o was done and in the meantime start another task. You can find it described on Google and wiki.
Nice explanation though and good examples ;-)


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That’s about ten more than I had previously.


I’ve come to the same conclusion, but how can I find out the neurological basis of how this works?


You can’t find it out ;) That’s the solution.


That’s not a good solution! I think you can!


Very interesting. I just saw an article about multitasking in CNN a few weeks ago discussing this.


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I have to disagree…I can play my instruments and have a conversation at the same time, I can bob my head to music while reading…Hell, I’m singing along with the song I’m listening to while typing this. It slows me down a bit, yeah, but I’m still doing two things at once.


I dont know how I landed on this site, but I am happy I did, at first I did not agree because hey I am that guy that always has to multitask, but your point about spelling and writing got me! I have to find a way to now make this applicable to tennis… Any suggestions? Thanks



jane cresswell

and this is why children with learning disabilities struggle so hard, because it requires the ability to multi-task to keep up with everyone else who are only required to single-task to get the same result.



jane cresswell

try copying some written material, reflected in a mirror to replicate the reflection, you’ll do your head in, classic example of multi-tasking and what the classroom is like for a child with a learning disability.



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Interesting right up, however your title is misleading, as a task that requires performing, whether automatic or thinking involved, is still a task; so your first sentence that states you cannot THINK about 2 things at the same time will not actually prevent you from multitasking. Therefore driving and talking to a friend on your phone at the same time IS multitasking, as you are doing 2 things at the same time.


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A few years ago, when Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was considering a ban on cell phones while driving, the following is part of what I sent him.

“I have a challenge for you and anyone else who wants to try it. Pick your favorite cable news channel, one that has a news ticker scrolling at the bottom of the screen. Listen to what the commentator is saying while, at the same time, reading the ticker and see if you can comprehend both. You can’t do it. You know why? Because your brain, anyone’s brain, can process only one sensory input at a time. Yes, you can multi-task, but the brain shuttles between multiple inputs, giving less than 100% of its attention to each task. Therefore, even with a hands-free setup, you are not giving full attention to the task at hand, which is driving, and thereby increasing the risk to everyone else on the road.”


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The actual Dayz hack challenge

DayZ is a sport that experienced the contrary associated with very humble origins.
It began as being a facet venture for the game designer referred to as Dean Lounge who had
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Dayz Origins and Dayz Epoch. The particular mod even received it’s very own ripoff edition such as the notorious Conflict Unces malfunction which brought about so
much controversy.

Because the start Dayz experienced a challenge with hacks.
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nuclear bombs along with a chance to develop a large base termed
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Dayz hacks that will induced quite a few avid gamers to quit.

Dayz Separate hacks are only because undesirable.
The sport have been being affected by hacks considering that it’s pre-alpha launch
a couple of months returning. Presently they’ve got absolutely no anti-hack prognosis method which can be causing cyber criminals to perform crazy.
The actual Dayz team happen to be superior on patching this uses compared to the actual mod, nevertheless it most would seem a touch too
later.

Not too long ago Bohemia Interactive proved that cyberpunks shattered directly into his or
her hosts in addition to took your online games complete supply program code.
That is a huge package pertaining to DayZ Separate, it indicates cyberpunks will probably know each
and every manipulate in the sport that they use thus
to their gain. The cyber criminals subsequently put up
the winning prize about Reddit, showing their loot as being a
bragging proper.


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Die Grafikleistung der PS4 ist eher im relativen Mittelfeld, während der X1-GPU im Einstiegslevel
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