Experts say the human brain cannot multitask. Your boss and job description say otherwise.Ever wonder if multitasking is really working for you? This guide shares 7 proven tips for "multitasking" It’s a Monday morning and you just got into the office. You check your mail and you have five support tickets that require your immediate attention. Add to that you have to write reports for management and a progress report on version 3 of content management system upgrade. By the way, you haven’t yet finished the cool social media feature that will allow users to easily manage social accounts from the CMS. As it is his daily routine. The boss periodically checks on you for 15 minutes status reports. The job contract and description clearly stipulated the ability to multitask as one of the skills that you should possess.  

The multitasking myth

Before the boss checks on you after an hour for a 15 minute status report, you want to show him progress. You want him to know you have checked the mail and got the support tickets and you are working on them. He has a meeting and he needs to present the reports so you want to show progress on that too. By now he expected the beta version of the content management system to be ready. He wants to see that too. What do you do in such circumstances? You may do all or one of the following. Open the report and write a section then stop. Open the code for the application that the client opened the support ticket for and browse through the code to figure out what caused the bug. As you browse through the code, you realize the features that the boss wants to see haven’t even yet been started. You switched to the code base for the content management to do something. You check the clock and realize you have already spent 40 minutes and you have nothing to show for it. At this moment, you are almost ready to swear there is something wrong with time in the world. The hours have turned into minutes and minutes have turned into seconds. The seconds have been wiped out from the time domain. The technical term for this situation is the myth of multitasking.

As humans, can we really multitask?

multitaskingStudies show humans cannot actually multi task. The brain can only focus on a single task at any given time. According to Cognitive Psychologist and author of Smart Thinking (Perigee, 2012) Art Markman, "The human brain doesn't really multitask, what the human brain does is what I call time-sharing". In addition to that, when the brain is switching between tasks, it needs to refocus. This results in losing time and affects the memory.A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Multitasking by any other name (time-sharing) would still be just as productive. The following illustration show how much time we would spent when working tasks sequentially. sequential_tasks The above diagram assumes it only takes a minute to switch between the tasks. If the tasks are executed in a sequential way, it will take 31 minutes. 28 minutes is the actual time spent and the 3 minutes was spent switching between tasks. The following illustration shows what happens when you multitask multitasking_tasks The above time spent on tasks is only for two tasks checking emails and attending to support tickets. If we use the sequential diagram, the time spent is 11 minutes on both tasks. If we multitask, the time spent is 18 minutes. That is an extra 7 minutes when we do things sequentially. If only we lived in such a world

7 Tips for Effective brain time-sharing

The article 7 warning signs you are a bad programmer. Listed working on multiple projects at the same time as a warning sign you may be a bad programmer.We thank you all for sharing the article with your friends and most importantly for your comments [keep up the spirit of sharing]. This article has been written because of the comments that we received on multitasking. It seems to be a key requirement of almost any joband even when you know it’s not effective the boss may still insist you do it.
  1. Create a to-do list: a best practice is checking mail first thing in the morning. This way, you don’t miss important mails that require your immediate action. Write these down plus other things that you already had scheduled.
  2. Set priorities on the to-do list. As a general rule, tasks that involve external clients i.e. customers, website issues etc. should be top priority. The last thing you want is your customer ranting on twitter and other customers retweeting that. If you have good reason to put internal clients i.e. the boss, testers etc. then you should do it.
  3. Put you’re to do list on a place where you can see it. I love using stick notes with five items on them. I use different colours to highlight important top priority tasks.
  4. Get rid of all distractions. Facebook conversations rock but allocate separate time for them. Do the same for your phone, workmates who love talking nonstop etc. I enjoy working with music and always have headsets or headphones. If it’s an acceptable practice at your workplace, put them on but without the music. People will assume you are wired in and will interrupt you less.
  5. Group related tasks together. Analyse the work that you have to do. If the support tickets involve programming and upgrading the CMS involves programming too then you have related tasks. You can code both at the same time. Coding and writing a status report would not be as effective.
  6. Learn to say no when you are swamped. Hey Jim, this will only take a sec of your time. Can you help me with a, b, c and d? I would love to but right now am working on x, y, and z. if it can wait for 30 minutes then I will help.
  7. Don’t be afraid to take a brea As humans, it’s only natural to want all the time in the world when we have a lot of things to do. If the going gets tough, take a break. Go for a walk or to a coffee shop and enjoy that hot cup of coffee. This will relax your mind and make you more effective when you return for work.