Multitasking: overrated or imaginary

By Bill Colvard -

Bill Colvard

Multitasking is a vastly overrated skill.

In fact, I contend that it is an imaginary skill. I do not believe all these people are doing a dozen things all at the same time. I think they’re just pretending.

I will go so far as to say that multitasking is deadly. It will kill you if you try it. Texting and driving, anyone? Clearly, if this was a real thing that people could successfully do, there wouldn’t be so many people driving headlong into other cars, or flinging their vehicles off bridges while emoji-ing.

For a long time, I suspected my non-belief in multitasking was because I was so horrible at it. It was less painful to think everyone in the world was lying than to acknowledge I was really bad at a skill that was beginning to be considered essential to life in the modern world.

And then one day, I found out I was not alone.

Not long ago I was hanging out at the Jumping H Farm which is the farm where I ride when I do ride. It was the first time in a long time, and it was nice to be there. If you’ve ever hung out at a barn, you’ll know what I mean.

At one point, I overheard the farm’s owner, Nicole Huttar, relating to a young student an anecdote from one of my early lessons.

Back during the lesson in question, after almost an hour of Nicole ceaselessly telling me, “Heels down,” “Sit up straight,” “Shoulders back,” “Leg,” “Quiet your hands,” “Steering is not optional,” and the hardest of them all, “Breathe,” I finally shrieked helplessly, “Pick two.” Pick the two most important things and I will do my best to do them.

There was no more hiding from the fact that multitasking was not my strong suit. I was incapable of doing all of those things at one time and I just flat-out admitted it. Well, I admitted only being capable of doing two things and I was probably exaggerating by one.

I have been told that properly riding a horse engages every muscle in the body and if the soreness on the second day after a good lesson is any indication, that is true. But I had not been told that I would have to consciously engage each and every one of those muscles. But at that moment, it was looking like that might be the case.

I had hoped up until my “pick two” meltdown that learning to ride would mean getting comfortable enough with the process to get a lot of it on auto-pilot.

But now, it would seem that I am the poster child for information overload to a bunch of 5-year-old beginners and I am just as honored as I am humiliated.

But I was secretly thrilled to know that I am not the only person on the planet incapable of multitasking. Of course, the other people having trouble with the concept are 5 and probably can’t read yet, either. So, there is hope for them.

Except I don’t think it’s real. I think everybody else is “picking two” and they just won’t admit it.

And it turns out, I’m not alone. An article in Psychology Today says that multitasking is a myth. People who are supposedly doing a bunch of things at once are not. They are actually rapidly switching their attention between those things. It’s called task switching and I can’t do that either.

So my problem is not that I can’t do a bunch of things at the same time but that I’m incapable of switching my attention rapidly back and forth between those things. Why is it considered a problem that I focus deeply on what I’m doing? That used to be a good thing.

And Psychology Today says it still is. People who engage in vigorous task switching lose as much as 40-percent productivity compared to finishing up with one task before starting another. And they make more errors. I wish more people knew this. Please tell your friends.

There is one exception, though. There always is.

If you learn a physical task well enough, it does automate and you can also do a mental task at the same time. So there is hope for those 5-year-old horsemen and horsewomen. Their brains aren’t fully formed and they’ll get it eventually. Me probably not so much.

Besides, sometimes I have problems walking and talking at the same time.

Bill Colvard Colvard

By Bill Colvard

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.

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