For the love of god, just stop saying you are multitasking

Is Elon Musk an alien?
Well. To be honest, I don’t think he is an alien. But initially, I couldn’t explain it any other way. I will get back to the Elon Musk topic in about 2 mins. For now, let me stick to the point with which I originally started writing this article.

You are not multitasking, you innocent ignorant fool. You are just choosing ‘not to do’ more than one thing, at the same time.

Multitasking doesn’t exist*.

This is one argument that I have had one time too many. The only thing you are able to achieve by multitasking is kill your time. As I was writing these lines, my brain raised an argument — what about Elon Musk? And the first reaction I had?

Fuck! Lucky no one ever raised that argument before.

But actually it isn’t that hard. Sure. It looks like Elon Musk is the Yoda when it comes to multitasking or the Chuck Norris’ kick to the face of all my anti-multitasking arguments. The guy runs 3 amazing companies — ones with great visions. (Solar City, SpaceX, Tesla — Huge fan!!) He solves technical challenges, business challenges. And he does it all in the same 24 hours that we get in life. But does that make him a multitasker, or does that make him a great manager? A person who knows how to get his resources to work at the optimum capacity. A general who leads by example and commands enough respect and authority that even his name is enough. Food for thought.

Don’t get me wrong. Elon Musk is way ahead in terms of productivity and shit he can do. But I am sure, when it comes to critical issues, he would put everything else aside and say — let me take care of this shit first. Mutitasking takes away your ability to focus and concentrate on any one problem at hand, inhibiting your ability to dive deep into the problems — to an extent that you can turn the whole thing around. Innovate at unprecedented levels. And every piece of work that Musk has been doing requires constant innovation. You don’t get that unless you are both focussed and driven.

Why am I so convinced you can’t multitask?

Focus, productivity — take your pick. Let me start by telling you about your REM sleep.

Why is REM sleep important
REM sleep is important because it is the restorative part of our sleep cycle. Typically, you begin the sleep cycle with a period of non-REM sleep followed by a very short period of REM sleep. The period of non-REM sleep is made up of stages 1 to 4. Each stage can last from 5 to 15 minutes.

Essentially, you need REM sleep to recharge your batteries and get better. Lack of REM sleep could lead to catastrophic results. Now, the first REM sleep usually occurs about 70–90 mins after we fall asleep. So if you were to look at sleeping as a work, it didn’t reach the level of optimum productivity as soon as you started doing it, rather it took more than an hour for you to get productive.

Your work is no different than the behavior of your REM sleep.

You are not operating at the optimum levels as soon as you start working. It takes more than 30–45 mins to get in that zone. What happens when you choose to engage in multiple activities at the same time? You don’t get in that sweet productive zone or if you do, it is even more delayed. That is not what you want, do you?

So you can’t really walk and chew gum at the same time, huh?

Actually you can. Remember the small asterisk at the end of the “multitasking doesn’t exist*” at the very beginning of this post? Yeah. It does exist. Fundamentally speaking. But no, you should still not be doing it.

What kind of multitasking is harmless?

  • That age old saying “Walk and chew gum at the same time”? Yeah. Go ahead, you can do that.
  • Listen to audiobooks while working out, taking your dog for a walk, grocery shopping (from a list) — Your eyes are free for the activity you are partaking in, so are your limbs, but you can be listening to the podcasts etc.
  • Read/reply to emails while waiting in the dentist’s office, waiting for your table to get ready at a restaurant, traveling in public transport.
  • Reading while commuting in public transport, taxi, a chauffeured car.
  • Checking emails, making important notes while you are waiting at the traffic signal, waiting for it to turn green.

I actually read somewhere you can drive and do emails by voice. Please don’t do that. Send ten less emails, but don’t be callous with your life or the lives of others. Keep yourself at 100% brain capacity while behind the wheels.

I don’t have a problem with you doing two things at the same time. Knock yourself out, go crazy. Just make sure that one of them is not something that requires serious cognitive ability or mental prowess. Because if it does, you are so doing it wrong.