Can You Really Multitask?

Day 102 Week 15 Q2 Thursday, April 11, 2024

I used to pride myself on being a world-class multitasker. Then, I noticed that none of the things I was doing were as high-level as I wanted them to be. They were all suboptimal. It is beginning to turn out that I can only do one high-quality thing at a time. I read many articles and columns declaring this over the last several years, but I thought I was fast, I was smart, and I could do it. As an advocate of repurposing content, yesterday, I found myself attempting to write words for a blog, a column, and a journal. I was a wise guy, thinking I could get all of these three things accomplished simultaneously. It didn’t work. All three writing projects had different priorities and slightly different audiences. This resulted in intermittent paralysis, with mad bouts of verbose content creation. The net result was that not only was I unable to achieve three goals simultaneously, but I achieved none of them.

This forces me to admit what others have told me and each other for quite a while: that multitasking does not really work. At least, it does not really work when the types of things you are doing require a deep dive. One of the differences between executives and artists is multitasking. When you are an executive, who is a manager of managers, you tend to be pretty interrupt-driven, having to respond to many crises every day. When you are an artist, you can also have many crises every day, but not nearly as many as an executive. You cannot create art without doing a deep dive. You cannot achieve a state of flow, where time no longer matters, without a deep dive.

To be an executive at the level of an artist, you need to do deep dives on a regular basis. You don’t have the luxury of doing this whenever you want to, but you do have to preserve the ability to do deep dives, renew yourself, recharge your batteries, and calibrate your perspective. One possible advantage of using artificial intelligence to create some sort of virtual low-level staff is that it might provide the ability to deflect some interruptions. Potentially, this could mean that deep dives may become more available to you. After all, if you are involved in a process interacting with artificial intelligence and get interrupted to do something else, the AI will not get upset because you abruptly stopped paying attention to it.

It could be a way to be an executive and an artist, not at precisely the same time, but not requiring the suboptimal gear changing as when other people and their feelings are involved. Shifting gears too rapidly with people or sports cars can create serious problems. Simply mashing gears to get to the next level of speed is not a victimless crime. You can break people just as well as a gearbox. It is less likely you will break an AI who does not care that you were interrupted and had to forget about it for a little or a lot of time.

Think of it not as multitasking but as a delegation to a less sensitive team member.