The big multitasking lie

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

Did you ever feel that you must juggle many tasks simultaneously to succeed?

Multitasking machines

It started with computers. Faster CPUs, readily available memory, and graphic interfaces made managing multiple applications running simultaneously easy.

Here’s the thing, though: even the best CPUs don’t perform multiple tasks simultaneously. Instead, they are highly efficient at switching focus.

If you think, “Paolo, come on, this is the 21st century; we have multi-core and parallel computing”, I encourage you to consider how what you are describing is the computing equivalent of a team, not an individual.

On juggling technique

I like to think about jugglers in this context because of the strong visual and semantic analogies between juggling balls in the air and tasks on a to-do list.

Juggling is an impressive trick, especially with five or six balls.

But if you look carefully at the many techniques available, something will become evident. With very rare exceptions only mastered by the very best jugglers in the world, all these techniques have in common that there is one and one ball only in hand at any given moment.

The truth revealed

The parallel between jugglers and highly successful individuals doesn’t end here.

In a juggling act, balls spend most of their time out of the juggler’s hands. During that time, she has no opportunity to control them.

The only way to successfully catch a ball when gravity brings it back down is to intensely focus on it during the brief time it was in hand.

It applies to you and me as well: to successfully execute numerous and diverse tasks, we must, at every single moment, focus exclusively on one.

The key to becoming highly successful isn’t to do many things at once; instead, it resides in our ability to give our complete and exclusive attention to the highest priority task in every moment.

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