The Inability to Multitask

Recognising the Challenge

There are people who are
incapable of multi-tasking.

They can not do more than
one thing at a time.

They can only function when
they are permitted to work
through each task until
completed before starting another.

Although most of us can sit at work, have five or more screens open on our computer, (a number of them NOT work related), talk on the phone, be conscious of our coworkers and their dramas, and able to consider what we will do when we leave the office, there are people who can not.

There are those who can not operate a computer and speak to the person beside them. Can not speak to more than one person at a time, unless they are lecturing. If they are on the phone become blind to everyone and thing around them.

It is nothing new, it has only become more visible.

Plodders Upgrade

There have always been people who can't walk and chew gum at the same time, (joking). Years before computersconquered the world there were people who could only deal with the file in front of them. If were interrupted by a phone call, they had difficulty 'switching gears'.

There are those who 'can't work under pressure' and if three people call them at the same time they freeze in place, like a computer announcing; 'bad command or file name'

We used to use the term, 'single minded'. In some cases it was positive, A person could concentrate on a task despite what was going on around them. Those who were able to scatter their attention were considered 'easily distracted'.

That was then. This is now

Can and Can't

Those who can multitask may have three or more conversations going simultaneously. They can jump from one place to another, without seam.

One who can multi-task can open another window on the computer, connect to another site, and while that's loading, take a play in Scrabble, answer the phone, add a few words to the document they are typing, while noticing the interplay between those around them.

Having to deal with one who is incapable of multi-taskingleads to a slowing down of one's own thought processes, and becomes extremely uncomfortable.

One can not talk while the Other is reading, because while he is reading his ears need to be shut off.

One must wait until he completes what he is doing to inform him of something else. If a phone rings and he answers it, there is no sense in remaining. One must wait until he completely finishes his conversation, hangs up the phone, and recalibrates his brain to resume.

To have to deal with a person like this puts you into a brain freeze. You have to physically stop your thoughts, and wait and watch as his sluggish mind shambles along the path.

Hence, where one usually flings ten different ideas, one must package one idea, let it penetrate the mind, be dealt with, before bringing forward another.

It is far easier to deal with such people in writing. Put the ideas out in one written document and insure there are connecting terms and explanative sentences between them. This will speed up the process.

Born that Way

If you can't multi-task, you just can't.

There is no "3 Step Method", to learn how. Your brain is one which focuses to the exclusion of all else. In tasks which require absolute undistractable focus, you will do exceptionally well. In the real world, you'll be left behind.

If you recognise your inability to multi-task you have to organise your interactions and limit them. Require information in written form. You can take your time, go one point to another, focus.

Don't try to dilute your concentration. One task at a time. That's how you do it. And do it right.


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Comments 6 comments

UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

I agree that only being able to concentrate on on a single task can be a problem when taken to extremes (i.e. actually only capable of one task, start to finish), but the "norm" in the business world is the other extreme-- multitasking all the time. Quality suffers, deadlines suffer, teams fall apart when members are pulled off to do "temporary" emergency work. Multitasking in business simply masks management's failure to stick to the plans they generate and hire or train workers with the necessary skills. Look at want-ads-- they want a worker who can do everything (including, of course, "multitasking"). Juggling kitchen sinks would be a nice capability. Colleges and universities are starting to realize that multitasking is causing problems and is not the best use of talent. I think something in the middle is called for and, naturally, some jobs require more multitasking than others (one example would be working in an emergency room). The ability to switch tasks is important, but, in many cases, it should not be the norm. Some of the time, multitasking is more a symptom of poor planning than anything else. Very nice article.


qeyler profile image

qeyler 4 years ago Author

It is certainly true that many people who seem to 'multi0task are really so scattered that they aren't really doing anything properly. But the other side are those who so focus on one task that they can not do anything else.

You know the person who is blind when the phone is at the ear, and the boss who goes ballistic when he's interrupted because his concentration is of such quality that it is destroyed by the slightest distraction.

thank you for your compliment


somethgblue profile image

somethgblue 4 years ago from Shelbyville, Tennessee

Ah I certainly hope I detected some sarcasm as I must say that everyone should be able to multi-task but have been conditioned by electronic devices to allow others to do their thinking for them.

The reason the Discovery channel was invented was to allow semi cognitive humans to at least pretend they had an original thought once in their miserable pathetic lives.

Speaking of which their has been a growing trend on HP's to embrace the SLACKER that lives in all of us and is just waiting for the opportunity to shine.

People that enjoy Multi-Tasking are only doing so out of sheer boredom and a way to challenge themselves, a clear sign that they need to find something a little more stimulating than out thinking their fellow humans . . . not a very daunting task.


qeyler profile image

qeyler 4 years ago Author

I have recently been working with someone who absolutely can not do more than one thing at a time. You can not use compound sentences. I'm serious. I can't hand him files. I have to hand them to him, wait while he reads them, and when there is a date, wait until he has opened his diary and entered it before moving on to another. I can't say; Brown is set for 10 July and Smith is for 14th of July and Jones if for the 20th. He can not process this information.

If he is discussing a topic, i.e. the ANC he can go at length and remember various aspects, but he can't jump from the ANC to Rwanda.


somethgblue profile image

somethgblue 4 years ago from Shelbyville, Tennessee

Now you got me wondering if you could create a way of communicating (subtle mind you) to challenge his paradigm and allow him to begin exercising his lack mental dexterity.

Having managed some folks that were that way, I found that putting them in positions to succeed usually enabled them to gain confidence in new found abilities so that you could increase the difficulties of their tasks.

just a thought


qeyler profile image

qeyler 4 years ago Author

The person I'm speaking of is a Professional. He makes up for his inability to think by preparation. One might consider him successful; but once one has to work with him on a project his plodding becomes evident.

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