Sunday, July 16, 2006

Thinking about multitasking

A few days ago I wrote about JP Rangaswami, who works in the information sector. I asked him for his thoughts about Attention Deficit Trait (ADT) which my blog reported on. ADT is a condition afflicting office workers that's worrying medical researchers.

JP has discussed this in his blog. I reproduce his piece , and would only like to add: we must never stop learning, from everyone and everywhere. And this reflection of yours is also very thought-provoking and educative JP. Thanks!

In that serendipitous flow that blogs excel at, Chukti made contact with me after a quarter of a century. (Great connecting up, Chutki!) And as we conversed he brought up Attention Deficit Trait (as defined by Edward Hallowell) and wondered what I thought of it.

A few days later I found Tim Hindle's article in The Economist's Intelligent Life, Summer 2006 issue. I quote : "Mr Hallowell says that people who work in physical isolation are more likely to suffer from ADT than those who share a lively office".

When I see statements like that I start thinking about popes and catholicism and bears and woods and faeces.

But what do I know?

So I continue to do what I do, and learn from my wife and my children. It’s strange, my wife does not do e-mail. She wants to, and we keep putting off “the lesson”. It will happen. Soon.

But in the meantime. Watching her deal with her daily routine, and (when and where possible) participating in it, teaches me more about multitasking and dealing with distractions than I could learn in an “office” environment. Let me draw out some themes, briefly.

1. Some of her tasks are regular and inflexible in terms of time. School runs and mealtimes are classic examples.

2. Some are regular but more flexible in the context of precisely when she does them. Shopping and laundry and meal preparation are examples of these.

3. Some are regular and low-flexibility in terms of time, but she outsources them. Cleaning and ironing and dry-cleaning come to mind.

4. Most of this is done while I am at work and the children are at school, so she does them largely on her own. But she interacts a lot with people while she does them. And she has many interruptions, some welcome, some not. Phones and doorbells ringing. “Outsourced” task handlers needing answers to questions in order to continue. Things to follow up, things to organise.

5. And somewhere within all this, she finds time for herself, to rest, to relax, to read the Bible, to pray. And motivate and spur and cajole and support the rest of us. And stay contented and patient.

Yes, I can learn a lot about multitasking from her. And I try to. Especially since she has all this without e-mail and IM and RSS, and has learnt how to deal with it all.

This mix of must-do and may-do, of time-inflexible and time-flexible, interspersed with personal and household recharging, this mix tells me a lot about how 21st century management could be. Not assembly line but networked household. With adults and children and friends and service providers. I learn a lot about prioritisation and pragmatism from my wife.


Julia said...

Good Morning
The world of The Internet is, indeed, just one large community.
I sit here in the study of my so-English house in Oxfordshire and read your words from a world away.
"Thinking about multitasking" - of course, women are the supreme multitaskers, I believe I read somewhere that this is associated with a specific part of the brain that is larger in women than in men

Anonymous said...

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Kalsang Dorje said...

I've never agreed with the term multi-tasking. I'm a computer programmer and I think that this term has come from computers. The odd fact about computers is they don't actually do more than one thing at a time. A processor is only capable of executing one instruction at a time. What it does to create the illusion of many jobs being done at once is to save one task in the memory, do a job which has higher priority (usually the job that the user is working on), and when the job is done, it goes and executes the old jobs in memory.

I really do think we do this too. We can only really have one job active at a time, the rest are just memory.

It's true that some of us are better at this than others, but I really do think it's the quality of memory :)

Ladies who keep the house certainly have a difficult job. I'd like to say my office work is just as difficult, but I don't know if that's the case.

From Canada,