If I'm playing a video game, I have to be listening to a podcast. If I'm reading a book, I have to check the news every few minutes. If I'm writing code, I have to turn on some sort of background noise. The only times I'm productive are when I, by some accident, get past the initial discomfort of doing only one thing, and get lost in the activity before I have time to think about it.
It's definitely a bad trait, but I didnt cognitively realize that until this thread made me think about it.
I'm curious what others do during this sort of downtime?
I often find myself stuck staring at screen when some lengthy process occurs. What helps is adding progress indicator, ETA clock, some audible OS notification on finish. Or better take a walk and get a SMS once the process finishes :)
So read a paper book , take a walk, print research papers and read them when you are waiting,
The idea is to treat each of the tasks between waiting as individual task.
Edit: book mind of numbers
- Is sitting in a meeting, listening and taking notes multi-tasking?
- Is listening to a podcast while jogging multi-tasking?
- Cooking and talking to friends on the phone?
I wonder if it can be defined through System 1 and 2 activities. So doing a System 1 task + System 2 task simultaneously would be ok, but not doing System 1 task + another System 1 task.
For example, if I'm learning to jog at a new cadence (180spm) I need to focus on just that. Once that's become my baseline I can listen to a podcast.
Similarly, if I'm at a stage of unconscious competence  driving to work, I can speak with a passenger. However, if it's a new section of road I'll need to pay more attention to signage, etc. at the cost of the conversation.
Instead, try to focus on yourself, your sensations, the smoothness/effectivness of your stride, cadence and so on. There is actually plenty to keep your brain busy.
It will help prevent injuries and make you a better runner.
None seem to account for:
Do what works for you.
Listening and jogging isn't, unless you struggle with some serious mobility impediment.
Sitting in a meeting is very rarely a cognitively challenging task as well.
But, once in a while I run into completely different book and cant stop reading it. Books that I would find boring back then I think. Like you, I read way more well-written history now, but there is also occasional fiction.
I think that the big difference is that once you are well into adulthood, it is much harder to come across book recommendation that suits you. The market is dominated by youth needs I guess.
Finding good books is a multi-armed bandit problem, and most of us follow intuitively a strategy well suited to that - explore (figure out which levers to pull, or which kinds of writing you care about, by randomly pursuing) and exploit (pick things that you know to be good because you spent time evaluating).
As you age, you're becoming more discerning, because you now know better what's possible, and you know better what suits you. But since the landscape is, for practical purposes, infinite, you also face the hill climbing problem of local maxima. That's why picking new random books in different areas works - it allows you to get "unstuck", and possibly find new maxima.
This also means - sorry - that at some point "well-written history" won't really do it for you any more, either. You'll have explored that landscape enough to become stuck on a local maximum. It will be something like "I really enjoy books about 1600-1800 by these five authors, it's just the best". And then you've read all those, and hopefully something entirely different crosses your path.
Enjoy the ride :)
Which is exactly the difference between market that is dominated by people like you and the one that does not. I don't need to go out of way to explore to find tv series I will like. That market is clearly dominated by people like me.
It also isn't "little gain" - it's the most efficient approach to the multi-armed bandit problem. Other approaches are less efficient.
Why would "not liking the same books as before" imply "we became boring"?
He literally is playing a game, watching a YouTube video in another screen, and talking to friends at the same time, and in the most extreme case, is even listening to an audiobook or podcast as well.
Asking kids about it, they all say that's just what they do and look at us oldies like we are from the 20th century or something.
Just last night my wife asked how I can play a game (Path of Exile) and watch YouTube on my other screen. It was a little hard to explain but I mentioned I tend to watch videos I don't really need to look at (in this case it was just the relaxing tones of LockPickingLawyer) and I was kind of playing in a flow state in PoE so it didn't need my full attention.
What is really concerning is when I am watching something I actually want to pay full attention to on YouTube/Netflix, and I find myself opening a fresh tab to load up a second video before catching myself and realising it's ridiculous listening to two videos at once talking over each other. Putting the speed up to 1.75x or so helps with this if it suits the topic. In fact that was one habit I built during COVID, and going from YouTube videos at 1.75x to voice meetings with slow-talkers back in the office I found myself reaching for a speed button that didn't exist.
This really seems to be it, for me. There's a "high" that comes with being productive. Multitasking lets you trick your brain into thinking its being productive, giving you the high without actually doing the work.
> What is really concerning is when I am watching something I actually want to pay full attention to on YouTube/Netflix, and I find myself opening a fresh tab to load up a second video before catching myself and realising it's ridiculous listening to two videos at once talking over each other.
This is so relatable. A lot of times I open up a window to get started on a project, and within 5 minutes I've absentmindedly opened youtube/reddit/discord/hn/wikipedia and started my way into a wormhole that will take at least an hour to get out of.
This terminology means you are completely focused on the task you're doing, forgetting other distractions. I don't think it applies here.
That's not a flow state. That's autopilot.
I literally listen to nearly all the content I watch on 3x speed, faster if it's not difficult to understand. I have literally found myself reaching for a nonexistent speedup button on a nearly daily basis it's very maladapted.
Even more so for @andrewstuart his son. I can only imagine what I could have achieved with early diagnosis and treatment.
It drove my grandpa nuts, and he literally taped paper over the bottom of his television screen so he could watch Larry King in peace.
Now you watch some Minecraft PvP influencer’s YouTube channel and they can’t make a statement without running around playing the game while they do it.
Like at the end of it could they give you a detailed report about what happened with any one of those things? Even just asking for the gist of things, I imagine at least one of those things is being tuned out entirely.
For instance, I often game and talk with friends at the same time. That's pretty normal I think, especially if we're playing the same game together. I could easily have a podcast on and a youtube video playing, and from my girlfriend's perspective I'd look like I was trying to do it all at once. But realistically there's no way I'd be able to give the podcast or the YouTube any attention. They'd just be on.
I'm just curious if the latter is really the same as multi-tasking. It's reasonable to question if having a lot of sensory input thrown at you that you are mostly ignoring is the same thing as multi-tasking.
Although when I was a kid a literally did everything with the TV on in the background.
20 years ago I had no problem having three to five conversations running in private chats mediating between guild members, keeping notes about them so I could remember for next session and still grinding XP in demanding highlevel areas of an MMORPG.
Now? All quiet and maybe I can concentrate enough to finish one task at a time.
When I visit people with TV on in the background I have a very hard time to talk to anyone.
Strikes me as the worst context switching waste imaginable.
My high school had four 90-minute blocks. 7 minutes between. 3rd period was actually 2 hours, and you'd have one of four half-hour lunches (so, sometimes 90-30 and sometimes 60-30-30, and each of those reversed).
I hated the middle school setup, in which settling down took the first 15 minutes and the last 10 were spent packing up (since the time between was so short, you had to be packed when the bell rang). High school was so much better... but my brother hated it, because focusing on the same topic for 90 minutes straight with no breaks was difficult. (And it made scheduling difficult, but that's tangential here).
So I think the moral of the story is that there's no silver bullet, and breaks are important, even if you don't change topics.
My wife multitasks like this all the time (tv + phone), but then she has to ask me something about what's on the TV because she missed it or didn't understand well
Related, my kids make grumpy faces when I tell them to turn off "background" Netflix or YouTube while they're doing their homework.
Semi related, my wife's friend came over and it was suggested we watch a film. "Aliens" was chosen as the friend and my wife hadn't seen it before. I put it on, they started chatting. When they started chatting I paused the film. They stopped chatting and asked what was up. I said that you started chatting so I figured you weren't watching the film, and I was actually trying to watch it. They promised to stop chatting. I played the film, they started chatting again after a short pause. We went through the pause/explain/promise cycle again and I played the film. They both promptly fell asleep.
Are you aware of the reason why you are doing this? Have you examined your reasoning as thoroughly as the faces of your children seem to tell you? Do parts of your body feel numb?
What? It's simple isn't it? Multitasking doesn't work, all having these things on in the background will do is distract from the homework they need to do. This is literally a comment on an article about how multitasking doesn't work.
> Do parts of your body feel numb?
What the hell sort of question is this?
You described yourself as extremely self-centered and you didn't seem to notice that you did so. I'm wondering if you are one of those people who seem to only ever use the left side of their brain. You can function in the role of a father in this mode but don't expect your kids to take care of you when you're old if you never respect their opinions and desires. I'm reaching out to you because what you wrote seem tragic to me.
Applying human sensibilities to the result of an evolutionary process is not going to capture all its intricacies because evolution re-uses systems with no regard to taxonomy. Because of this you are for example unable to tell the difference between anxiety and gas trapped in your stomach, or tension in your neck and stress from work. There is no duality which lets us separate mind and body, and apparently people can get so out of tune with their own body, mind and emotions that physical numbness results.
Respecting people's opinions or desires doesn't mean letting them do anything they want, and not letting them do one fucking thing doesn't mean that "you never respect their opinions and desires". They're kids, they need structure, guidance and protection. You can let your kids do whatever the fuck they want wether it's good for them or not, let me know how that works out.
Your weird obsession with this, and your writing make you sound like a complete fucking weirdo.
> “The attitude toward time and environment known as “multitasking’ does not represent civilisational progress. Human beings in the late-modern society of work and information are not the only ones capable of multitasking. Rather, such an aptitude amounts to regression. Multitasking is commonplace among wild animals. It is an attentive technique indispensable for survival in the wilderness.
> An animal busy with eating must also attend to other tasks. For example, it must hold rivals away from its prey. It must constantly be on the lookout, lest it be eaten while eating. At the same time, it must guard its young and keep an eye on its sexual partner. In the wild, the animal is forced to divide its attention between various activities. That is why animals are incapable of contemplative immersion—either they are eating or they are copulating.”
> We owe the cultural achievements of humanity—which include philosophy—to deep, contemplative attention.”
not surprisingly given that it is branded that way by the "multitaskers". I mean you wouldn't find many deep contemplative thinkers at the mid- or top-level of corporations or even of the whole society. These days the ability to deep contemplative thinking is more like a handicap relegating you into the rank-and-file.
If you have a brain injury, head trauma, stroke, cognitive migraine.... You're aware of the space you vacate. You can feel it missing and its "a thing".
For everyone else, you just convince yourself you're just as effective as you were. You think multitasking works or driving after two beers is ok. You're not aware of what is outside of your constrained cognition.
Used to multi task like crazy when younger.
Turned out it was a coping mechanism for severe ADHD.
Then had a few years of brain injuries.
I would see a problem. Say “reverse a string”, and think oh that’s trivial.
A week later I would finally finish.
I “knew” how to solve the problem, but as you described something was missing.
Eventually recovered, plus got on adhd medication.
Now I don’t multitask much. Only if I skip medication.
I still can but it’s harder unless I’m off medication.
In general I’m much more productive. But grander problems are a little harder as I’m not thinking too much beyond the moment.
Why do we have this bias? Is it deeply wired in some sort of survival instinct?
1) Any productivity gained over that one-or-two-day session makes very little difference in the big picture. Even a week.
A company/product/feature is never going to live or die on that 30 hours of coding that you managed to squeeze into 48 hours. 99.999% of the time you're doing it to calm people's nerves or make someone (yourself? PM? EM?) look good.
2) My reasons for doing these marathon sessions was a lie.
I told myself that I'm doing it because I love the product, love the work, love this, love that. I'm an artisan, I told myself. A professional. Work is my life. Isn't it the same for those Japanese knife maker guys? I'm like those guys. I live this work.
The real reason was fear. Fear of not being the best, fear of not being successful, etc. I felt like I didn't have a place among MIT/Stanford grads. So I compensated with brute force.
It didn't help that I was rewarded with more money, more respect, and more decision making power. I was even rewarded with more knowledge than everyone else -- you learn a lot working 12 hours a day. And if you screw something up you have plenty of time to fix it.
Wrote a nasty bug? No problem, ship a fix at 11:30pm and the impact is minimal. People are much less likely to criticize you if you're the person sitting up at 11:30pm shipping to production. Clearly your heart is in the right place, right?
The "trick", I found, was to work for people who NEVER EVER demanded more than 7 hours a day from me BUT also appreciated that I'd go well above and beyond expectations. Now that I think about it, it reminds of drug dealing (or the little I know about it from when I was a teen).
I feel fortunate that I was able to disassociate my fear of failure from my genuine love for the work. These days I'm able to be very productive and lead a relatively healthy life but it took waaaay too long for me to figure out how.
At my company, we give out "values awards". People are frequently lauded for working late evenings and weekends. Everytime this happens, I cringe. If people feel they need to do this, it's a sign that projects were under-resourced or the deadlines were too tight.
At this point in my career, I am so much more comfortable saying "no" to upper management.
"My team does not have capacity for this"
"ok, which piece of work do you want us to drop?"
"Yep, we can do that... next year"
Me too. But I also don't care about career progression or money anymore. 10 years ago that wasn't the case.
However, I'd like to point out (as someone else did too about downplaying the upside) -- if you did get rewarded with money, respect, promotions (decision making power), knowledge -- these are all real material gains from those long hours. True, from the business point of view, your extra hours didn't matter to the business in the long run. It did matter for your career though. In fact, if you happened to work for a growing unicorn, and you gained those rewards and promotions with those long hours, you may even have made lifechanging money from unicorn equity, from those long hours.
Which, comes back to the point, this is unhealthy and somewhat toxic (the fact that putting in long hours gain you those things, i.e. it encourages people to do so).
What I'm cautioning against is a consistent strategy of brute force work in order to compensate for other things (fear of failure in my case). It's like the difference between socially drinking and being an alcoholic.
Long way of saying I agree with you.
You just have to realize, like a good night out drinking, that you’re trading it for something in the other end.
That's what happened to me. Unicorn -> long hours -> pay day.
> Which, comes back to the point, this is unhealthy and somewhat toxic
This is the unfortunate conclusion that I've come to as well.
High risk, high reward. There are people who work just as hard and for just as long, but don't get to enjoy the spoils. When I think of how close I came to not making it -- eek.
Several 'death marches' over my career were in fact necessary for business reasons. Large penalties can exist in contracts when deadlines are not met. No one is going to reschedule CES, the Christmas shopping season, or the Superbowl for you because you were running behind. In some cases, missing a deadline throws off the schedule of hundreds or thousands of people in your organization who depend on your work. It's true that many times it doesn't matter, but many times it does absolutely matter. I'd like to think I got to where I am in my career because I'm willing to put in the effort to make those sorts of deadlines.
> My reasons for doing these marathon sessions was a lie.
My reason for doing it is because it's the job. I came into engineering with the expectation that it is an important job that often demands much of you but also affords you with a great deal of flexibility and self-determination. I get to take off time whenever I want and WFH whenever I want because I accept that there will be times when I absolutely cannot do whatever I want.
It depends on the specifics of your job as well. Some indie game dev can probably just delay their release a few days. Embedded devs are often on a schedule dictated by hardware schedules, production schedules, factory availability, shipping time, etc. etc. Just because the job is software doesn't mean it has to resemble any other software job.
If you are cutting it so close that an extra few hours are the difference between delivering or not, _ the project has been a failure for quite a while _
Some things cannot be easily foreseen and you have to fight some fires. That's fine. But let's not normalize lack of planning.
Projects with multimillion dollar outcomes are somehow managed by people who don't stoop to ask your team anything in the planning phase.
Instead they come in the implementation phase and want you to jump. Then you point out the resources required - in writing - and the fires are burning...
At that point, I may help or may not depending on whether they pay good overtime and it suits me.
This is why management should be setting internal deadlines LONG before the actual deadlines. If they fail to do this, it's their fault, not yours (as the engineer).
If you play up to their illusions of success by telling them "it'll be fine, we can do it" (I've done this -- a lot) then of course they'll go along because you'll be the one to blame when the deadline isn't met.
Setting yourself up as the one to blame for promises outside of your control is a very, very bad thing to do.
> No one is going to reschedule CES, the Christmas shopping season, or the Superbowl for you because you were running behind.
This is WRONG. Of course they reschedule things for CES. If a product isn't ready in time for some event, the company WILL find a way to deal with it.
This is what took me a very long time to learn.
Nobody cares about CES. Not in the big scheme of things.
> I get to take off time whenever I want and WFH whenever I want because I accept that there will be times when I absolutely cannot do whatever I want.
Taking a couple weeks off is nothing. Tell me a story about how you take off a couple weeks every 3 months -- you don't. Because, in order to meet the "demand" you speak of, you're not actually going to use those times off.
There are something like 104 weekend days in the year. Now combine that with non-work hours there are in a year. Now add a standard amount of vacation days per year in tech companies (like 4-6 weeks?). That's how much time you're giving up by working nights and weekends.
> Embedded devs are often on a schedule dictated by hardware schedules, production schedules, factory availability, shipping time, etc. etc. Just because the job is software doesn't mean it has to resemble any other software job.
But it isn't the responsibility of the hardware developer to ensure timelines are appropriately padded.
The reality is, and this is especially true in hardware, non-software related delays happen all the time. It needs to be accounted for either way.
As an intern this feels like everything I want though. More money, more respect, more decision making power, and most importantly, more knowledge. Fortunately my job is done after 4 months no matter what.
I can't imagine reading the same set of comments 20 years ago (when I was young and a frequent marathoner, as were my teammates).
Is this indicative of a cultural shift in the industry?
Or collective learning?
Or might it just be that no 20 somethings are commenting here and it's just a sample bias resulting from older commentators?
Do 20 something developers today feel that marathoning is a wasted effort, or do they tend to think it is the best way to get things done?
BTW I think I would agree with the comments now, but even 10 years ago I might have been dismissive.
Yes I think the industry is changing.
In my anecdotal experience, the quality of programmers has taken a nose dive. I think part of the reason is that it's been a lucrative industry for long enough that parents have had time to coach their children into the industry.
In the early-mid 2000s (when I cut my teeth) and especially in the 80s/90s (from what I hear) you came across more "hacker" types that were doing this work for the love of doing it. Yea you still had the "Initech" type companies that would outsource/etc but cutting edge programming work was a lot easier to find.
These days I'm seeing more and more people that treat programming as a "job", not a "passion".
Obviously I think this is a good thing for people, in general.
But I also think that, while the potential for software is at its highest, the actual relative quality of software is at its absolute lowest. This is due in large part to the bad quality of software engineering these days. Again, very anecdotal.
- see the rich vs poor divide
- see what it took for the rich to get there. And it isn't just "hard work".
Plenty of people work hard at all levels of life.
But the "hard work as a virtue" meme is dying.
When you know more, you are able to apply leverage to do more in less time, and a marathon session is a waste of time.
IMO, telling young folks not to push themselves is intellectually pulling up the ladder behind ourselves.
My personal life doesn’t allow me to do marathons. If I was single I would probably be hauling ass all day every day. I understand the health implications, but the desire to be “the best” or to be “10x” clouds my long-term vision.
I want to dominate like rms, Carmack, Beej, Eich, etc. That might put some people off, but technically, those same critics are my competition. If you don’t want to put in the same hours as me, that’s cool, but there aren’t an infinite amount of $200k+ roles in the world.
Now I've know a few people like that, but in general it is a myth. But at least get the right myth. Long hours are not part of 10x myth. I mean unless you mean loves math/computer/etc. and is always learning weird complicated stuff. But that's "taking care of your mental flexibility and strength" not "working long hours to meet a deadline."
Depending on your own goals brute force or giftedness might not even be necessary let alone sufficient. Particularly when it comes to external validation.
I am similar to you in where I am in my career, also similar profile in terms of how I got here, but I don't agree with you. I think this is a natural cycle and it shouldn't be sold as an insight or a learning.
Learning compounds, so if you spend an extra hour at 20 that is like a 1000 hours when you are 40. It is what it is. You have to balance at all times so as to not go over the edge, and loose touch with the feeling of meaning. So I don't regret burning myself from both ends at 20.
I have a kid now, and a family. Things are different, as much if not more fun. But I wouldn't want this life for my 20 year old version. He found meaning and growth in the trenches.
Take this with a grain of salt, but I've found myself happiest working for small companies with people that I like being around. The list of reasons why is quite long (I can elaborate if you like), but the only unfortunate downside is you make a lot less money. You do have a chance of winning big in the acquisition lottery though.
> It didn't help that I was rewarded with more money, more respect, and more decision making power. I was even rewarded with more knowledge than everyone else -- you learn a lot working 12 hours a day. And if you screw something up you have plenty of time to fix it
I was only able to reflect on these things after "making it". I feel comfortable financially and confident that I'll get work for the rest of my life, if I need it.
There was a cost though. Like a greek tragedy of sorts.
It cost me my health. I don't get to enjoy the spoils of "victory" as much as I would have when I felt healthy. Health is now a factor to consider daily and, in my case, it's directly attributed to the insane amount of myself that I put into the work.
Another cost was missing out on precious time with my wife and child. That one really sucks. No undoing that one.
I still love coding, learning new stuff and occasionally burning the candle, but I'll never again make it my god.
One of my coworkers worked a lot of overtime at one point, I think he liked to feel like the hero. In order to make sure a particular project was delivered in time.
Guess what happened? The client just randomly pushed the deadline back a few months making all the overtime unnecessary.
I know you can’t know if this will happen ahead of time, but it still reminded me that you can put in all the effort in the world and not get anything for it. Personally, I will do my absolute best within the confines of my contract, and no more. I might do some occasional overtime if it’s needed, but I expect my employer to return the favour when I need some time off or flexibility.
I’ve had too many health issues from my past bad work practices (it’s hard to have good work practices when doing your own startups...) to do any more than that. Hell im being treated for high blood pressure right now...
I'd push hard to reach a deadline only to see the deadline get pushed back because other, more sensible people, were not bending over backwards for the company. These are other sensible people could be folks on other teams (eg: marketing), business partners (eg: launch partners), or even customers.
> I’ve had too many health issues from my past bad work practices (it’s hard to have good work practices when doing your own startups...) to do any more than that. Hell im being treated for high blood pressure right now...
I feel you. It's impacted my health as well. I think permanently.
I'm fortunate enough to have built up a financial war chest so that I can relax now, but boooy was I close to not having made it.
I feel what you’re describing is part of growing older and being in a different phase of life. What you mentioned is something that I have read more often. I feel that the only way for me to appreciate work like you do, is to currently work more than might be healthy. As wrong as that might seem, it seems very right to me.
For instance, with my 16-hours/week I dont get done what I want. I’m sure it doesn’t matter in the long term, but there’s so many cool projects to do. I would love to be allowed to work in the evening to finish some cool stuff. I genuinely feel better after that. I expect to feel different about this after 15 years in the industry.
Maybe that’s just how we learn, maybe it’s societal expectations that we try to live up to and stop caring about when we’re older.
The unhealthy behavior on my part is comparing myself to my friends who went to the Bay and make basically the same salary but get like $100k in RSUs per year on top of it, or those who have the mental endurance to juggle a FAANG job and fairly lucrative contract work on the side.
Even though the numbers are attractive, I enjoy having the time to have a life on the side. I don't really like the concept of "work is life" that the big bay area tech companies seem to have. Not exactly doing much with it right now, but I could if I wanted to...
When I started setting those boundaries (eg: not working evenings, weekends, etc) I discovered a few interesting things.
1) No one even noticed. It turns out most people are busy enough with their personal lives that my work schedule isn't on anyone's mind.
2) When there are delays we just push the date or adjust the scope. I'm no longer getting pats on the back for moving the needle at light speed, but I'm still outperforming my peers.
3) Now I need to be mindful about how I make my decisions. When I brute forced, I would throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. I'd eventually find the optimal solution to a problem and that's the only thing other people would see. They didn't see the 100 other failed attempts and wasted time. Now I don't have 100 attempts at solving a problem: I have like 5 attempts. It works out fine.
Could I have been doing this all along? Was my chaotic brute force working model just a lot of wasted energy? Could I have just worked smarter, not harder?
If you need me to do a three day sprint, I'm going to accomplish the most without any breaks and with very sporadic sleep. (typically when doing a multi day session my sleep happens 30-120 minutes at a time, usually immediately following me hitting a difficult problem that requires intense rumination)
The catch is than in many positions, one needs to blend these 2 modes of operation. Some collaboration, some deep work. Unless there's support throughout the organization, what ends up suffering is the deep work.
From personal experience I think these are two very different things.
Context switching seems to me to have a cost directly proportional to the complexity of the task. If it takes me 10 minutes to get the mental model of something sorted and then I'm interrupted I'll lose most of that 10 minutes. I can fire off emails requiring little thought one after the other with little cost.
I find that working long hours/without breaks is completely trainable. I can do it productively for long lengths of time and the longer I do it the easier it gets. It's very tiring, and requires solid rest in between but it can be done and it can be very productive.
The intersection of the two is impossible for me. Interruptions seem to accelerate the slowly building fatigue markedly. It's as though almost all the effort goes into getting the mental model sorted and staying there is relatively cheap.
So can everyone else, which results in the state of the average modern inbox.
Slack is my problem. I'm trying to train myself to be disciplined but too many people treat it as synchronous.
The problem is that humans can't objectively qualify their own results without analysis, and we don't do rigorous scientific analysis on ourselves regularly, so we have no idea when something we do is shit or not. The only facility we have for that is comparison and pattern recognition, which is not rigorous analysis. If you don't go out of your way to compare your results as a multi-tasker to the cumulative qualitative results of somebody else doing two different things, you will never see that multi-tasking is worse.
Also the "gambler" instinct is there. I have solved hairy problems when I'm tired (because when you are out of ideas, you tend to consider creative options) though it is rare. But you seek the "rush" of solving it, finishing something that will give you a "high" for hours after you leave the desk.
a) people are different. some people can grind more than others
b) passion makes the grind easy. people passionate about a project can go harder longer, but expecting everyone to be passionate about their job is not healthy. this passion may appear or disappear depending on your task
As to how to fix it I have no clue. That's hard.
So many bad practices basically persist due to inertia and we all suffer for it.
Anderson JG, Abrahamson K. Your Health Care May Kill You: Medical Errors. Stud Health Technol Inform. 2017;234:13-17. PMID: 28186008.
Medical residents are capped at 80 hours per-week making around $50k/year, and this is sold as some sort of breakthrough over the previous system where they were working well-in-excess of those 80/week for years during their residency.
What is normalized in the healthcare system is beyond insane.
Instead, I will only add that distractability is emotional and moral in nature. When I feel uncomfortable, I will be tempted to switch to something else to relieve the discomfort. The inability to engage in self-denial is one reason for indulging the temptation (which is why fasting and abstinence are great ways to engage in self-denial and strengthen one's self-mastery; you can always spot a person's weakness by the passions they overindulge and which seem to control them). Historically, this inability to do without pleasure was called effeminacy and the inability to bear discomfort was called delicacy (the Greek μαλακία has been translated into either, I think). Sustained focus is toil and toil is uncomfortable and requires both enduring discomfort and relinquishing pleasure.
Another reason may be related to mental health. Distractions and diversions become especially attractive when under duress.
These studies are non-ergodic. I work best under long hours; have tried both. The real proof in the pudding is the fact that many of my competitors work "efficient" work weeks and get buried under the onslaught of hours I work.
For surgical things like programming and software development, I'll readily admit that working 80 hours/week is not ideal. But for management and a wide-ranging entrepreneur, I strongly suspect the opposite is true.
Getting your sleep, eating well, exercising, seems more important.
It is more an energy management issue. The human brain consumes 20% of our energy intake if we are resting. And about 28% of our energy intake if it is performing some effort.
And all this work also generates waste, which needs to be moved to the blood and this takes time.
So it's not strange that we have chaotic behaviors.
It's about the control in hierarchy. The more one is flooded with streams of work, the lower is the chance of threatening somebody or leaving for greener pastures (leaving to worse ones is more likely for an exhausted person).
And technically, if we keep struggling at it, over time (generations) we'll get better at it.
Dualism. Body is physical, mind is spiritual. Therefore, mind cannot fail.
Or some reasoning along those lines.
Cue the counterpoints of "I love to hustle". Sure you do, until you come down with burnout, a mental health issue, failed relationship, etc.
For the person that decides to efficiently pursue money at a higher velocity, the sooner they finish it the sooner they can recreate their social circle with new people that only see the outcome
I’m still around people that talk about gentrification and inequality, just from my penthouse apartment where they’ve mentally exempted me from being the very person they talk about
At work, I disable all Slack messages and check Slack in my slack time. Email gets checked at 9AM and 4:30P.
I'm genuinely interested in this because by far the most time-intensive distractor in my job is answering email. When I look at email at 9am I am usually busy replying until 10 at least. Then I get some work done which I need to send off by email at 11:30, seeing that I have 20 new emails of which 10 are somewhat relevant and 1 needs a reply.
The anterior cingulate cortex is involved in attention management and impulsivity. This has been known for quite some time. It has even been observed that children with ADHD have thinning in (some parts of) the anterior cingulate cortex. It seems like quite a stretch to exclaim that multitasking itself causes that. It's obviously not impossible, but seems implausible - at least implausible enough to not make it a separate paragraph in a short article.
My breakfast routines are routines, If I start to mix up my routine, egg, bread and coffee timings are all screwed up. I overcook the egg, coffee is late. I have noticed timing and serializing tasks is everything when cooking anything. I think this is where the french(?) mise en place comes from, prepare every ingredient before hand, so when you have multiple stoves going on, ingredients are ready and you can focus on time critical stuff.
I was in this mode for years, racing around on overdrive, and I've been slowly learning to do One. Thing. At. A. Time. again. It's been hard because the habit is so ingrained. And probably also because it 'feels' like I'm less productive.
1. It drains your energy - You have limited energy available every day. If you spend most of your energy in context switching, very less is available for actual work. And if you over-work, you cause real physical damage to yourself.
2. You can’t do any deep work - Deep work requires attention on a single thing for a sustained period of time.
The idea is to work with your attention - not against it. The best way to do that is to reduce context switching and eliminate attention residue. Here is how:
1. Short-duration tasks - When you pick a task, finish it completely before moving on to the next one. Have distraction-free slots for work and batch similar tasks together.
2. Long-duration tasks - Pause-and-resume approach. When you pause a task, take a mental dump of its current state. This helps in two ways - first, your attention will not linger when you move to the next task and second, it will be easier to pick up when you resume that task.
The nature of my job is that I'm almost more of a train conductor than a software engineer. I configure a job, run it, then wait for 10-30 minutes to get the results. I do this for maybe 5 jobs at a time, on 5 different projects. Naturally I feel a lot of stress and cognitive burden while doing this but I figured it's part of the job.
Is this normal for backend, distributed-computing heavy jobs? Is there a better strategy I can adopt? Should I try to get a new role with a shorter compile-test feedback loop?
Also hard, also expensive, just different.
A relevant HN post: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26259007
...that just means you don't prioritise any crime.
Which is it?
What is worth what?
You're still working on a single thing at a time.
There's also getting into the next most urgent task and getting deep into it and being free to just ignore all notifications for however long vs. people expecting to ping you on slack and get a real time answer or invite you to a call with 10 minutes notice and expecting you to be there. Again, the second is stressful and injurious to good quality work.
Strictly speaking, even computers don't execute multiple tasks in parallel, at least not on the same core. Even with hyperthreading, each step in the pipeline can only work on one datum at a time. Computation is always serialised, and any context switching comes at a cost. It's just that in computers this cost doesn't matter so much, and/or it's outweighed by the benefits of weaving tasks into each other.
Nevertheless, Multitasking is a myth, technically.
- "Women 'better at multitasking' than men, study finds"
- "Multitasking Lowers IQ"
- "Successful People Don't Multitask"
- "While more research is needed to determine if multitasking is physically damaging the brain (versus existing brain damage that predisposes people to multitask), it's clear that multitasking has negative effects."
I don't know whether to laugh or cry.
You can do both but not at the same time.
They tested this on Mythbusters and got the same result .
> In each of their tests, the researchers split their subjects into two groups: those who regularly do a lot of media multitasking and those who don't.
> In one experiment, the groups were shown sets of two red rectangles alone or surrounded by two, four or six blue rectangles. Each configuration was flashed twice, and the participants had to determine whether the two red rectangles in the second frame were in a different position than in the first frame.
> They were told to ignore the blue rectangles, and the low multitaskers had no problem doing that. But the high multitaskers were constantly distracted by the irrelevant blue images. Their performance was horrible.
> Because the high multitaskers showed they couldn't ignore things, the researchers figured they were better at storing and organizing information. Maybe they had better memories.
> The second test proved that theory wrong. After being shown sequences of alphabetical letters, the high multitaskers did a lousy job at remembering when a letter was making a repeat appearance.
> "The low multitaskers did great," Ophir said. "The high multitaskers were doing worse and worse the further they went along because they kept seeing more letters and had difficulty keeping them sorted in their brains."
So the usual soft science dreck of investigating vague, ill-defined umbrella terms such as “multitasking” by investigating a highly constructed, specific scenario that never occurs in real life that falls under it, and then extrapolating this result to all of real life, not to mention inferring causation from correlation.
Logic of the form of “Eating is bad, because we fed our test subjects objects human beings normally never eat, and we concluded it was very averse to their health to eat marbles, shards of glass, and mercury.”
It looks like the author tries to make a point, cherry picking articles that fit his view.
First, there is no causal relationship, something he mentions "more research is needed to determine if multitasking is physically damaging the brain (versus existing brain damage that predisposes people to multitask)", but dismisses it right after "it's clear that multitasking has negative effects".
It is also interesting how he went from "smaller density" to "damage", which implies some kind of destruction rather than adaptation. Then there is all that part about EQ, which mixes bad behavior (not paying attention), with other forms of multitasking like having plenty of stuff open on your computer. I mean, I can monotask during a meeting by not paying attention at all. Then it connects it to the "brain damage" study by saying that some of EQ-related parts of the brain are also related to multitasking, without showing the whole picture.
The IQ and performance related part is more convincing, but also isn't really tied to the "brain damage" part. It is also a bit confusing as evidenced by a commenter asking "what is multitasking".
That IQ drops when you are doing two things at once is kind of obvious, but it is nice to have a study to back it up. The question is "is it worth it"? And now comes what I think is the only insightful part: media multitasking, basically having more than one thing on your screen(s) makes it harder to switch tasks properly.
If you're downloading a huge file that takes 1 hour, don't just stand there watching, put a timer on, and go work on a different task.
If you're copying a huge document, don't just stand there, put a timer on and go d another task.
Learning to recognize processes that can be run in parallel is key, but it doesn't mean to do 2 things at ones; anything that requires some level of thinking can only be done single-tasking.
We take multiple courses in colleges, and we switch context all the time. I often worked on an assignment or reviewed coursework between two classes. I usually took no fewer than 5 classes in a semester, and a class usually had 4 to 6 assignments, 2 to 3 midterms, and a final. So we often had multiple assignments or tests due at the same day, which means we had to work on multiple tasks in a day too.
Similarly, we became more multi-tasked when we grew more senior. A design review now, a product planning meeting in the next hour, followed by an 1-on-1 to discuss a particular issue, and then a task to write a white paper. Again, multi tasking in my eyes. One does carve out some quite time for deep think, but the majority of the time will be broken into back-to-back meetings for multiple tasks.
This holds true in computing theory, feeding 10 things to a single core in sequence is more efficient than feeding 10 things at once and having the CPU handle interrupts.
I wish there wasn't a book advertised at the bottom of this article. I feel like I can't share it.
It did, I believe, have one unforeseen side-effect: I now struggle to multitask in relatively simple situations where it's necessary. Maybe it's just because I'm getting older (42), but I seem to struggle with it much more than any of my peers.
Still, I wouldn't change anything. I believe I'm as or more productive per unit of time than anyone I've worked with.
Edit - one more side effect: I used to regularly work 12+ hour days. Now I'm _completely_ spent after 7-8 hours, as those hours are so intense.
1. When doing multiple things at once performance is reduced in each of those things (thank you capt. Obvious).
2. Doing multiple things at once in a specific setting correlates with reduced activity in some brain areas. Casuality not demonstrated either way. No demonstrated relationship between "brain damage" and lower activity, so the claim in the title is at least two logical errors away from the raw data.
3. Buy this new book about EQ (which is pseudoscientific crap on its own).
I'll gladly do 2-3 things at once all day, but she has to pause the TV to answer a question or read a text message
I don't think I'm as good at multitasking as lot of people in this thread, though.. I can multitask while programming and feel like I'm doing a great job, but then in retrospect it's clear that my output was maybe 20% of what it would've been if I'd been fully focused
I found that out in college, homework assignments would take 30 minutes at my desk or multiple hours in front of the TV
I think I need to get better about silencing Slack and keeping the web browser closed at work, come to think of it.. It's dang frustrating having to wait 2+ minutes for something to compile and run though..
I also can work and breathe at the same time (neat trick). /s
I find it slower having to switch between viewing different screens or moving my head, yet I'm the only one in my friend group who does this -- everyone else seems to prefer dual monitors.
I'm curious if HN people find that dual monitors feel like more of a distraction, and if it's at all related to multitasking.
Having email, slack, discord, or HN open is an absolute no go. Nothing more distracting than focusing on a project and seeing new emails or messages stream in. I try to limit those to a separate laptop or tablet at all times.
If I had to guess, it's that these studies aren't sensitive to the outliers. Imagine telling e.g. Elon Musk "multitasking and long hours are bad for your productivity".
I've been keeping very detailed data on my personal productivity for years, while taking all of the consensus wisdom ("long hours = bad", "multitasking = bad") to heart. What I've instead found is that long hours (literal 14+ hour days) makes me more consistently productive.
Multitasking also has a strong synergistic component to it that I suspect doesn't show up in these narrow studies.* If multitasking across different projects leads to insights that shave years off of your respective project plans, but otherwise makes you slower locally, it's still more than worth it. Again using Elon as an example: Tesla and SpaceX have been made mutually stronger by insights being cross applied the two enterprises.
* To be fair I'm speaking more of multitasking at the project level, not at the minute-to-minute level.
So if you're life currently involves only long days filled with multitasking (probably very common in some walks of life) the solution involves shorter days and more focused time, whereas for others it might be the other way around.
Whatever the truth is, I highly doubt humans are optimised specifically for exactly eight (or six) hours of focused work every day. I suspect we are helped by some variation, including the occasional 14 hour multitasking day.
Also wouldn't it make quite a difference on what time scale you are multi-tasking? If it's on the time scale of days between context switches or hours/minutes.
Unfortunately it’s difficult to test that hypothesis. And it’s survivor bias to pick Elon Musk.
Working 12-14 hours a day on a couple of things is more in line with deep work, which is actually very productive for alot of people.