In parallel

There are many different opinions on multitasking. Some people swear by it and do it all the time. Others not so much, and they need to chop their tasks into nice packages that can be finished one after the other. I used to belong to the latter group, but I’ve found myself lately to be slowly shifting towards the former. I hate it. I hate it when I have to. I hate it when others do it. I think multitasking is horrible, and simply comes with huge tradeoffs on the quality of the tasks executed.

I personally mostly multitask when I’m more or less forced to, in two potential scenarios. First, when teaching online, if students have a question that I don’t know the immediate answer to, but I know where to find it. I will usually tell them I’ll look for the answer, and while I’m looking I give updates on my main findings. The reduction in focus immediately shows. I’m usually talking like some drunk guy, until I have finally found what I’m looking for, and I can finally continue with the primary task: teaching. I hate doing it, but this is a scenario where I deem it more or less appropriate. A second would be when I’m doing any task at the screen that isn’t a meeting, and people would come in I’m a sense of urgency (I try to have an open-door policy). I usually try to make time immediately, and drop whatever I’m doing. However, I find it hard sometimes to quickly switch gears like that. Nevertheless, urgency sometimes requires this, and I think it’s important to be available in such situations. It often feels like I’m still semi-occupied by the original task, as it’s running in the background. I consider this multitasking, too. Maybe technically it isn’t. Okay, I just now realize there is a third one: I take screenshots of our group presentations and paste and save them on my computer, so I can share them on our group Twitter. Even though this is only short, it’s already a huge distraction. I literally miss the point (and the good part is that at least I have the screenshots to guess what the slide content was about). There’s just no fun in multitasking. I need focus.

I also absolutely hate it when others multitask, and especially in meetings, or during presentations. I don’t care how good people are at it, the fact remains that you’re always going to be better with full focus. And most people can’t hide it. In my opinion, it almost always shows, although many may perhaps not notice the subtle differences in quality of responses or changes in behavior. Above all, I think it’s a matter of respect. Example: How often I have seen people simply not pay attention to my own or other people’s conference talks. Horrible. It’s a huge dent to my confidence if someone does this. I doubt they’re aware of this. Is my talk really that boring? You really need to check whether something more important hit your inbox? It really can’t wait? It makes me wonder whether these people also share dinner conversations at home with their partners while playing Candy Crush Saga on their phones in the meantime? In my opinion, it’s bloody offensive. I always have great respect for those people that sit through presentations, or entire conferences, with full attention. It makes a huge difference.

If you find yourself in need of constant multitasking, it’s about time you learn how to say no to things and curb the fomo.

Change my mind.

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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