How much multitasking is too much?



  • Whilst having a conversation with my friend about excessive computer displays, it occurred to me - how much multitasking is too much?

    Yes, you can look at 4 projects at once with 4 displays, but there comes a point that I'll call "terminal productivity". This is the point at which your personal productivity bandwidth is saturated and you can neither take on more tasks or complete anything competently.

    At what point is it overwhelming to have too many things going on in front of you at once?



  • There does get to be a point where you can be trying to do too much. However as someone who just put in 3 large displays (pics to come as soon as my desk is clean). I have to say from the management side of things I have to keep track of so many people and what they are doing that I need to have multiple ways to do it. My goal is to get my monitors, laptop, smart phone and 2 tablets all front and center to watch and work from. Separating things out is how I keep organized.



  • Well is it static data or stuff that is being actively worked on? Most of the multi screen setups I see are dual, one for email and one for everything else. I've seen guys in enterprise datacenters have 4+ and even projector screens up in front of those. But most of that display was for static info / dashboards.



  • I have a monitor for email and calendaring, one for lync conversations all in separate windows, one for my main this is what I am working on now screen. Laptop is for administrative duties (accounting etc.) Windows tablet is watching one forum. Ipad another. Phone for texting techs in the field and facebook. Spreading it all out helps keep me organized.



  • All multitasking is too much. Humans don't multitask, we context switch.

    Buts lots of monitors doesn't mean multitasking. I use all screens for a single task so that my visual information is always there. Far worse than too many monitors is too few where something you are working on has to be manually moved in and out of view - very inefficient and mentally jarring.



  • @scottalanmiller said:

    Far worse than too many monitors is too few where something you are working on has to be manually moved in and out of view - very inefficient and mentally jarring.

    Different kind of problem. I'm talking about having multiple tasks in front of you at once. Too many displays to overwhelming to me, regardless of what I'm doing.



  • @scottalanmiller Good example. I work with CAD files that are translated between platforms. I have to use dual monitors to visually verify reported issues with our translators.



  • @Katie Two large 23 or 24 inch monitors are great for most uses.



  • Exactly. Or doing HTML on one screen and seeing the render of it on the other.



  • If I had to do my job on a single monitor it would drive me crazy all day long. Even just a single computer would make it less organized for me to deal with.



  • Right now, I run three displays across two computers. I use one for email, center is main, and left is generally communication. But there are times that I could really use more screen real estate. Communications, email, research, active project, music management, and static data monitoring. As scott said, the process of switching things around on what you have can easily break your focus on what you are doing. I personally could actually see making a six display setup function to it's full capacity and keep me flowing at about max efficiency on a heavy project.

    Or, when things are going fast, I could see using it for multiple projects. For example, if I'm watching two helpdesks, researching problems on project A while making progress on project B. As Scott said, technically it is still context switching, but that is the way I see working on multiple things.



  • To be fair most of my tasks are tasks I can easily jump in and out of 50 times a day.



  • @Minion-Queen said:

    If I had to do my job on a single monitor it would drive me crazy all day long. Even just a single computer would make it less organized for me to deal with.

    It does drive me crazy with a single display. 😵
    I'd better do something about that.



  • I find two monitors to work really well. More than three I can't use.



  • @scottalanmiller said:

    I find two monitors to work really well. More than three I can't use.

    I'm in the same boat.
    My desk has two monitors attached to my main computer and a third monitor on my desk is for working on another computer (think installing windows/updates, etc).



  • I only use two, but then again, I "sort of" have more than that since I use Devolutions RDP Manager. I tend to have several servers tabbed that I bounce back and forth. I'd go crazy if I wasn't multitasking. Many of the things I will do is kick off an update/upgrade/install then bounce to the next task.



  • I am working from 2 monitors currently, and I just use the real estate to keep 2-4 things "up front" as I work on a single task encompassing the apps I am looking at... or I am watching email on #2 while playing Minecraft on #1 (but I swear that never really happens).



  • Multitasking is a great way to nibble at things without making solid progress in any of them. Humans are designed to work on one thing at a time. The key is breaking down things into manageable chunks that you can get through one at a time. That way, you can work on chunks of different projects, yet still be able to give each chunk your full attention. Some of what I say may sound familiar. It's part of the Getting Things Done method. For more information, check out http://gettingthingsdone.com. I've been a practitioner for 4 years, and it's turned my ability to handle workload right around.


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