My email to Ben Casnocha

He's totally ignoring the market data.  Do law partners and top investment bankers multitask?

Yes.

I won't quite write "end of story" but…

Or look at the top people at [top tech conferences].  How many of them check their iPhones all the time, etc.

Lots of them.

Of course top CEOs don't multitask all the time, they multitask selectively, combined with periods of extreme focus.  Still, I would say that multitasking is passing the market test.  That point does not receive nearly enough attention and oddly it is usually not mentioned in the major polemics against multitasking.  It's one thing to think that a seventeen-year-old teenager will multitask too much; it's another thing to make the same claim about an extremely valuable executive, surrounded by assistants, time management specialists, and so on.

Here is further commentary on the entire issue.

Comments

"Finally, there is a growing body of evidence on the benefits of mind wandering, which is what happens when the spotlight of attention begins to shift inwards. Does this mean we should always be distracted? Of course not. But it does suggest that focused attention is not always ideal."

Sage words.

So how do you persuade the seventeen-year-olds to turn off the techno and facebook while reading Turgenev? They will tell you they are training to be a CEO.

Part of the reason is our jobs are so freaking boring because they are so specialized and require so much focus. So, multi-tasking may be unproductive and it may be why we need to do it.

Is not government's only indispensable task to detect, discourage, and penalize socially negative collusion ? If 'yes' again, that implies a revolution in the role of government that is now too busy doing dispensable things.

i'm with TomG - what's easily verifiable is 'highly paid', not 'highly valuable'. but leaving that aside, it might well be that CEOs are less effective as a result of multitasking with the help of coteries time management specialists than they would be if they allocated their attention differently. and even within that world (of CEOs vs. psych studies done with college students) there's probably a whole shelf of management books (Who Moved My Focus?) arguing to that effect.

Checking your phone at a conference is not so much multitasking as making use of time that otherwise would be wasted. For whatever reason, the attendee is not fully engaged in the discussion at the moment, so she does something else instead. But if you asked her what was being said while she read her email, her recall would be less than perfect.

"Of course top CEOs don't multitask all the time, they multitask selectively, combined with periods of extreme focus...it's another thing to make the same claim about an extremely valuable executive, surrounded by assistants, time management specialists, and so on."

I just wanted to re-post what you wrote with part snipped because I think these lines make exactly the right argument. Multitasking is necessary to some degree -- successful people learn when and when not to do almost anything that has an affect on their performance.

I can't believe you actually think that CEO's are valuable. They're usually the most worthless person in the company, put in their position by networking rather than competence. My guess is that they don't generally multi-task less because they're productive, and more because they don't have that much to do (or rather that they're good at delegating). I'd bet you'd find that CEOs multitask much more as you move down to smaller companies where they have more impact on day to day operations.

Another point is that with CEOs and high-profile people in general, as you say Mr. Cowen, they have an entire staff of people to keep them organized and on task. This serves as a scheduling mechanism most don't have, as well as an error-catching mechanism (potentially, depends on who your staff is). Given that, CEOs *should* feel more comfortable multi-tasking with their safety net firmly in place.

The trouble with multitasking is that in doing it, it *feels* like one is getting more done. Without a dedicated personal assistant, or whatever, to shove all of my errors in my face and pre-organize everything for me, I'm never going to know just how bad I am at multi-tasking because the feeling is deceiving me so thoroughly.

Here is a good pinker article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/11/opinion/11Pinker.html

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