Multitasking is a myth. Yes, humans have the ability to walk, talk, and chew gum at the same time. Athletes can run and catch. The generally understood concept of multitasking involves juggling a number of tasks at the same time. Yet, even real jugglers generally touch only one item at a time while keeping the others in sync.
The rest of us have trouble juggling multiple tasks at the same time. Not multiple projects. Multiple tasks. We can whistle while we work. We can listen to music while we work. We can talk while we work.
Can you watch a YouTube video while you browse the interwebs on your Mac?
No, not really. You can listen to the audio from the video but as soon as your eyes depart from the browser to the new YouTube miniplayer, then it’s official. You’re not multitasking. You’re simply moving from one task to another.
Wait. What? That’s nonsense, right? Not so fast.
Even neuroscience research says our brains don’t really handle multiple tasks simultaneously as much as simply switch from one task to another. The brain stops one task and moves to another.
That start/stop/start process is rough on us: rather than saving time, it costs time (even very small micro seconds), it’s less efficient, we make more mistakes, and over time it can be energy sapping.
Yes, we can juggle but not really multitask as much as simply bounce from one task to another.
Wait? What? You can download files and check email at the same time, right? Yes. But you’re only doing one of them at a time. The Mac handles the file download in the background and all you did was initiate the process (juggle) and then move to another task.
Yet, we can walk and talk and think at the same time.
That problem with true multitasking should tell us that our Macs are far more powerful than we need them to be. Most of the time. That phenomenon may also explain why software capability hasn’t caught up with hardware capability. Our Macs are capable of doing far more than we can juggle. We still bounce from one application to another; often prodded by Notifications of one kind or another.
If we’re not multitasking then what are doing? Juggling. Switch-tasking. It’s a thing.
So next time you think you’re multi-tasking, stop and be aware that you are really switch-tasking. Then give yourself a time limit (10 minutes, 45 minutes?) and focus on just one task and see if you can’t complete it better, faster, and with less energy.
My Mac is home to a hundred or so applications and a dozen or so are open and running at any one time, but I’m really just juggling apps; switch-tasking between them to accomplish a specific task. Maybe one day a Mac will be really smart and perform multiple tasks at the same time (and far more useful than downloading apps or email in the background).