Multi-Tasking: Continuous Partial Attention

Is multi-tasking a skill? Should we be working on this skill? Does multi-tasking enrich our lives?

We’re living in a world of hyper-connectivity. Each one of us is at the centre of a complex network of people, activity, and experience. It’s a 3D network, and we can so easily lose our bearings.

The old days

In the old days, we could be reached by phone – when we were home, of course. In the old days, our research was done when the libraries, museums, bookshops, and record offices were open, or by making phone calls and visits. In the old days, we wouldn’t dream of disturbing someone at lunchtime.


Tasks are no longer done one at time. We’ll eat and work at the same time; make phone calls while we’re shopping; read and reply to text messages when we’re with friends; take our work to bed; tax a vehicle while watching football. The possibilities are endless, and it’s in our nature to stretch possibilities to the limit.

But our brains can’t carry out multiple tasks simultaneously, on the same level of consciousness; we can fully concentrate on just one thing at a time. When we perform several tasks at a time, we continually adjust our concentration. Basically, we give our attention to all the tasks in turn.

On the lowest level of consciousness, we breath, digest, pump blood, etc; we’ll even do this whilst in a coma. Activities such as walking, masticating, rocking, etc, are performed on a low level of consciousness. Language functions (including number and graphic activity, as well as reading, writing, and talking) demand a fully conscious presence.

We talk while we drive. Conversation requires the highest level of consciousness. Driving is allocated a lower level of consciousness – until there’s a need to make it top priority.

We cook a meal, keeping an eye on two saucepans and something in the oven whilst grating cheese and doing a bit of washing up. Again, we’re juggling the tasks, moving them from one level of consciousness to another, as needed.

While we’re multi-tasking, no task gets our full attention.

Correct me if I’m wrong – seriously; post a comment – but it seems that most of us fall into the I’m no good at multi-tasking group. Few people, in my experience, will claim to be good at multi-tasking. But still, we all try.

One thing at a time

As we juggle, struggle, and muddle through, quality is compromised. Continuous partial attention dilutes the intensity of effort.

Continuous partial attention is the antipathy of a Mars Bar:

A Mind that Strays

Spoils Your Work, Rest, and Play!

Do one thing at a time. Get it right. Succeed.

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Article produced for and on behalf of PCSimple Ltd by Hazel @ Folio Copywriting

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