I am not referring to “background-tasking”, which is where one sets a process in motion, doesn’t need to attend to it for a period of time, does other stuff, and returns when the original task is completed. I am also not talking about “switch-tasking” which involves making phone calls, then switching to email, then move to writing a report, then when the phone rings, dropping the report and answering the phone. (As noted in earlier posts, I’m rather against this latter method of work.)
Instead, when done well, multitasking is a consciously considered process. It involves doing multiple tasks that are consistent and relatively predictable.
Good multitasking is a gradual integration of several tasks into a single task.
As an example, learning to do a tennis backstroke involves many individual considerations and “tasks” at a micro level:
- Anticipating the position of an incoming tennis ball
- Deciding upon the swing to use
- Deciding on an optimal position on the court
- Actually positioning oneself on the court
- Deciding upon the grip to use
- Deciding upon the swing to make
- Deciding upon a good position in which to place the ball on the other side of the net depending upon the opponent’s position
- Stepping into the ball with the swing
- Making sure there is a good follow through
- Re-positioning oneself after the swing in anticipation of the next volley
There are many aspects to the swing. However, with enough practice, i.e. a repeated regular placing of attention on these multiple tasks, they eventually become a single task.
This requires at least:
- A consistency of the several tasks involved
- Some relation between the several tasks involved, and
- A repeated practice of the several tasks.
When deciding to do multiple tasks at once consider whether or not they can, in this sense, eventually become a single task.