Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Multi-Tasking Myth - Revisited

Jeff Atwood strongly recommends to avoid multi-task working. He even backs it up with studies and citations from people who have already proved they know what they're talking about.

In principle, I agree with him, but I would like to set one exception (in French they "it's the exception that proves the rule"). The exception refers to research projects. Very often, I find myself immerged in some aspect of a research. I encounter some problem, but no matter how hard I try, I just can't find a way out. I'm stuck! When this happens, the best way out (at least for me), is to step back. I give my brain a rest, letting it work on other things. This could be anything - some simple programming task, reading a book, whatever. The important thing is to do anything that's as far as possible from my initial task. Then, after a couple of hours, it hits me (usually when I'm in the shower...) - I suddenly understand what I've been missing, and what I must do to get out of my current situation and move on.

So as far as I am concerned - when I have a complicated research project to work on, I always have a backup, low-priority task, preferably a very simple one, to which I can switch in case of stall. The switch costs, of course, but at least I don't find myself investing a lot of energy getting nowhere.

In all other cases, context switching is a huge time-waster and usually causes more harm than good, no doubt about that!

P.S: I'm not talking about literally doing 2 things together (talking on the phone and surfing for example). This is something that always degrades the quality of both actions. I admit - sometimes I do that, but then I'm willing to pay the price...

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