Multitasking, something we copied from computers.

Photo by Jonas Leupe on Unsplash

Multitasking, something we copied from computers.

Multitasking is the concurrent execution of multiple tasks for a given time. This means that if a new task comes up amidst execution of an already running task, the new task is executed without having to wait for the first one to complete. The term originated from computing in the mid 1960s and we since then adopted it to describe a similar ability in humans. Whereas this is humanly possible as with computers, I want us to briefly explore the concept and see why we might want to avoid it.

How multitasking is done?

Before we can go deeper into this exploration, let's first get a grasp of how multitasking is archived in both computers and humans. At the core of it all, multitasking is reached by switching between active tasks and we can perhaps rate how good or bad it is based on how fast the task switching occurs.

In computers

Given that the vocabulary was picked from computing, it's only right for us to start with computers. During multitasking, each task gets an allocated CPU time according to specific priority policies and this is in fractions of a second. The CPU switches so fast between these tasks that you may get the illusion that the computer is working on all these tasks at a single smallest instance of time. There's also a concept of parallelism in which large tasks into smaller, independent tasks that can be executed simultaneously by multiple processors of the CPU: The multitasking in this case is at the processor level.

To generally improve the multitasking ability of a computer, you just need to increase the computational resources of that single machine, that is CPU and RAM. The RAM comes in mainly during context switching.

In humans

Multitasking is archived by allocating brain power to a given set of tasks. It can also be done by task switching, and through use of the subconscious mind. Task switching in humans is costly as it the context switching in this case is quite different and requires brain power to execute. An example is how you take the first few minutes of switching to a different task trying to recall the last progress you made.

‍Context switching is our tendency to shift from one unrelated task to another.

You can also archive multitasking as a human by delegating repetitive tasks to the subconscious mind. These tasks are usually motor tasks. For example speaking on the phone while driving a car.

Avoid multitasking because...

We have seen above how computers are well suited and designed for multitasking unlike we humans. It makes us;

  • Lose our ability to focus for longer
  • Prone to errors due to shorter attention spans
  • Waste time during context switching
  • Less productivity

However, there are times you can use multitasking to your advantage as a life hack, for example if you suffer from short attention spans and/or are procrastinator. This helps you prevent yourself from getting easily bored.


Multitasking occurs because it is somewhat impossible for any single atomic faculty to execute more than one task at any single point in time. It is however possible to create an illusion of this over a time span with rapid task switching.

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