I cannot multi-task – July 3, 2020
Women are reputed to be the best multi-taskers in the world. In the Universe probably. Certainly, I’ve seen demonstrations. Closer examination reveals two things. One, women multi-task but they don’t do it well. Two, women admittedly lie about any number of things which is innocuous as far as women are concerned, because most of what they lie about is not lying but an alternate view of truth. That’s a different blog, perhaps a rant.
To multi-task, one must be able to defer, to prioritize and track large numbers of unfinished tasks, to focus on the current (or near current) task presently at hand, and to switch tasks at neutrino speed. (See arguments in scientific papers suggesting neutrino speed exceeds that of light. Which I for one, will champion: it ruins the concept of causality, which will absolve me of blame for most all of life that goes on around me according to most every woman who has ever stood on my toes and scolded me.)
Deferring an in-progress task is impossible for me. Even for a second. Doing one thing, when the laws of every science and philosophy collude to demand I accept a new task, one of two things will happen. One, I won’t be able to do it. I’ll be a dog with a bone in my mouth. Two, if the new task is a bigger bone, I might pull it off. The dinger is, I won’t be able to stop obsessing over the smaller bone just set aside. Obsess? Yes. About the old task and the new. Focus, see later, is impossible.
Um. Because I cannot multi-task, my inability to put aside a task and my inability to stop thinking about either the old task or the new one happening simultaneously is impossible. That itself would represent multi-tasking. Is that some perverse self-fulfilling prophesy?
(For computer people, real computer people, not drag-drop folks, I’m going to aside a bit here, explaining push-pop tasking concepts. Join-up with us again in the next paragraph.) “Push-pop” is a mechanism computing machine operating systems use to manage resources. Assume one task monopolizes critical machine resources. Another task with as-yet determined importance arrives at ready-state looking to pre-empt the executing task or disrupt the order in which waiting tasks are allowed. The task manager, itself subject to priorities and pushing-and-popping, assumes uninterruptible priority to determine the immediacy of the new task. Failing to convince the task manager of its legitimate claim to priority, the new task is “pushed onto” a stack of tasks waiting to monopolize specific resources. The task manager, before itself relinquishing held resources to the scheduler, scans the “stack.” Indeed, the task interrupted by the new task and pushed-onto the stack, appearing to have legitimate claim on resources, by circumstance, time, availability of resources other than time, and more, may no longer be the most urgent. The most urgent task is given resources, for a certain time or until event interrupts suggest the task stack requires re-ordering. It’s intimately more complicated, but that’s it in a nutshell. Do not assume multiple CPUs and networked resources make the model work differently. It is a matter of nuance, and inarguable. Even the magic of providing dedicated CPUs for every conceivable task will bump into SPOF, funnel, or choke-point concepts only illustratable by the one God analogy: if a task requires conference with God, only one task at a time can do that. God can, tasks (computers) can’t.
(Um. Taking longer than I expected, computer people. Skip again. Get a cup of coffee.) Given the push-pop idea, as a human, multi-tasking is a push-pop affair. Interrupted at one task, I push what I was doing onto the stack (set it aside) and address or assess the “new” task. Having dispatched or deferred the new task, I then select from the stack what to do next. That may not be ironing my shirt for tomorrow, on discovering laundry ready to transfer to the dryer. It may be time to start supper. In theory, to a computer, and many women, there is no practical limit to the number of concurrent (not simultaneous) tasks that can be managed. (Without consideration for “thrashing” which even most women will allow is a real danger when multi-tasking.)
(Welcome back, computists.) My push-pop stack only holds six tasks. It holds six. It effectively manages only three. Chewing gum, watching the coffee pot finish so I can grab a cup of coffee, and reading email puts me at limit. I’m only really doing one of the three, two are always suspended, waiting. Come along and ask me to light your cigarette, I’ll cave. Makes no difference you are the most drop-dead gorgeous woman in the world with that cigarette, less that you had trouble dressing this morning. It ain’t gonna work. Email and coffee are forgotten. I’ll swallow the gum. I’ll probably burn my fingers. When you, assuming you are Ms. Dropdead, leave, my push-pop stack is corrupt, empty, irretrievable. Maybe I’ll discover there’s been a fourth stack item, ‘find the nine-sixteenth box-end that came up missing last summer,’ suddenly viable again.
So much for prioritizing and tracking large numbers of tasks in sundry states of completion. There’s the matter of focus. If you’ve been following along, whether your lips are moving while you read or not, you already see little hope for the matter of focus. Dropping the seventh and after new tasks whether by push or stack entry point, you see I’ll worry over every one of them, detracting from laser-sharp focus on task numero-uno. The big boy is gonna take a lot longer, only getting seventy-five percent of my attention. Realizing that myself, I’ll get anxious over waiting tasks which will further corrupt my focus, so were’ approaching fifty percent effectiveness. The worse it gets, the worse it gets (which suggests “thrashing”). If you don’t understand that, I see your badge says you are a multi-tasker.
Finally, let’s take a gander at the idea of changing tasks at lightning-speed. I have a one-track mind. If you cancel a project out from under me, I’ll finish it anyway. I may do it off-the-clock, and it might appear I’ve swapped tasks, b-u-u-u-u-t, not really. That ties back somewhat to focus and to the ability to drop or defer tasks. When someone admits (certainly not me) a different task takes priority, for a period, not at all brief, I’m gonna have one task in one hand, another in the other, focus and resources suspended, unfertile, and in great peril. The time it takes me to feel the slap on my wrist to drop one or the other rules-out task-swap speed.
You and I, realists, recognize there are other factors at play. For example, there’s the “we’ll get back to you on that.” Your call to customer service. Your inquiry on a billing error. Notification on when the replacement widgeroller will be in stock. Not a multi-tasker, that nebulousness throws any hopes for multi-tasking out the window. The new delay is yet another “stack” item, effectively reducing my stack limit to two real saved environments, complicating focus, delaying task switches, regardless of the fact that “when” whoever deigns to “get back” is not a manageable task, not on my stack.
Nope. Can’t multi-task. Tried. Still do. Can’t. Waste a lot of resources trying. Single purpose. Single thread. That’s me.
*Dinger, not danger. A dinger is a dent, wrinkle, abnormality, flaw, detraction, pimple, 404, wart, blockage.