Is Multitasking Still a Skill to Boast About?

Multi Tasking Cartoon

Over the last several years I have read many articles (popular as well as academic) that have consistently tried to educate people that multitasking is inefficient, error-prone and negatively impacts the mental health of the so-called multi-tasker.

However, we still receive job applications with resumes that highlight the multitasking skill of the applicant. So, I chased this a bit, and discovered that even consultants helping people apply for jobs advice them to highlight their multitasking skills (or is it a single skill?). I have also found ‘multi-tasking skill’ as a checklist item in the interview evaluation forms of a few organizations.

Evolution of the Multitasking concept

The word ‘multitasking’ first appeared in the description of the capabilities of an IBM computer (System/ 360) in 1965. People started using the word for human beings in the 1980s as a desirable skill and something that enhances productivity.

So, what is multitasking in human beings?

Human multitasking is the apparent performance by an individual of handling more than one task, or activity, at the same time. The term is derived from computer multitasking.


In the last ten years, multiple controlled experiments and studies have been conducted to understand the concept of multitasking in humans. The research consistently shows that humans cannot pay attention to multiple things at the same time. So they are essentially doing rapid context switching. This increases the total time taken and also increases the errors. People who typically multitask, perform poorly (compared to people who do not typically multitask) even when they are asked to do tasks sequentially.

Multitasking is Not Recommended

So, unless it is absolutely necessary, do not multitask (I am using the word multitasking as is commonly used – actually it is some kind of rapid context switching). And do not take pride in your multitasking. Here are a bunch of reasons:

  1. It could be dangerous – like talking on the phone while driving, or texting while walking on a busy road. In some professions, trying to simultaneously do more things than what is absolutely required may be fatal to others (surgeons, air traffic controllers, pilots, etc.).
  2. It is slower and less efficient. According to some studies productivity can reduce by around 40% when you multitask.
  3. It is error-prone. Research consistently shows that people make more errors while multitasking. So, the tasks that you get “First Time Right” reduce significantly.
  4. There is no sense of satisfaction of completion, because there are multiple tasks in progress, and the sense completion of one task  is overshadowed by the rest of the ‘work-in-progress’.
  5. Communication becomes unclear and unsatisfactory – in professional and personal life. Because you cannot pay continuous attention to what others are saying. Nor can you convey a complete concept that requires long communication. This could impact relationships too.
    For example, because you were on the phone while typing an email, you may mark the email to the wrong persons, or send the email with partial / wrong information – thereby creating confusion that needs further communication and sorting out.
  6. Multitasking increases stress. When we start to drop balls,and make mistakes our feeling of overwhelm increases, and the stress keeps building.
  7. Multitasking reduces the IQ (temporarily) by around 10 points – roughly equivalent of missing one night’s sleep – for people who are already sleep deprived or already have a low IQ, it may be a disaster :-).
  8. Multitasking becomes more difficult with age. As all of us are ageing at the same rate (1 day per day, 1 year per year), we will be able to do less and less of ‘multitasking’ as time flies.
  9. Multitasking while eating can make you overeat – so it is not aligned with healthy eating.
  10. Need to multitask may be addictive – you may be soon be unable to focus on a single task for a long duration, even if that is essential (like answering a 2 hour examination without your cellphone or tablet or laptop or TV or favorite book).


Here are some aspects of multitasking for which I could not get very definite answers.

  • Does gender play a role in the ability to multitask?
  • Are some individuals significantly better than others at multitasking?
  • Does multitasking reduce attention span? Or do individuals who lack attention span typically tend to multitask?
  • Can we train people to be good at multitasking?
  • Are there some combination of tasks that are conducive to multitasking? What are their characteristics? (For example – it is perfectly natural to speak to someone seated in a car while you are driving, but not to speak on the cellphone;  one can listen to music and answer emails, but one cannot cook while answering emails).

Books on Multitasking

Here are some good, easy-to-read books that explain more of the concepts and can also help you manage the situation better:

  • The One Thing: The surprisingly simple truth behind extraordinary results by Gary Keller. Available on,
  • The Myth of Multitasking: How “Doing It All” Gets Nothing Done by Dave Crenshaw. Available on,,

Other Articles on the Internet

Read more about the uselessness of multitasking in the articles listed below (links provided):

Videos on Multitasking

Here is a video that talks about why we can’t multitask efficiently.

If the video does not load use this link:

Here is another short video:
If the video does not load use this link:

Please feel free to share your views, experiences, and queries, using the “comments” feature available. You may also forward the link to this post to your friends, colleagues, and anyone else who may be interested.


Nothing Official About It! – The views presented above are in no manner reflective of the official views of any organization, community, group, institute, or association. They may not even be the official views of the author :-).

The Complexities of Inaugurating a Public Toilet

The Complexities of Inaugurating a Public Toilet

Some days ago, while taking our usual morning walk at the nearby public park, we saw a small gathering of the regular morning walkers. Some of them beckoned us to join them. After the gathering had become sizable, one of the persons (Shanku) cleared his throat and said, “We are proud to announce that the new public toilet of this park will be soon inaugurated – thanks to all of you for the support.” he pointed to a  newly erected set of green boxes, which were being given finishing touches. I was not sure of the support I had given, but decided against voicing it.

Attached is a picture of the toilet (appropriately masked/ hazed out to protect the privacy rights of the public toilet – by the way, do public toilets have privacy rights?).

Shanku continued, “We have invited an important officer of the municipal corporation – the DC of …. for the inauguration scheduled on the 15th of this month, at 10:00AM. I request that all of you remember to come for the inauguration.”

“By the way, this is one of the first virtual public toilets in Bangalore”. This elicited some minor clapping and murmurs of appreciation. After some time, a squeaky voice ventured, “But how does one do it virtually? I would prefer to physically use a toilet.” The appreciation changed to apprehension. Soon the confusion was cleared, it was meant to be an e-toilet, with the “e” representing some kind of automated flushing based on electronic sensors.

Shanku tried to regain the control with his next point, “It also has extensive security features – hidden CCTV cameras everywhere.” That resulted in more grumbling “they are going to take my photo while I am….?”. Again, after some consultation, it was clarified that the cameras were not hidden, and were placed just at the entrance to the toilet area.

The next point was identifying the master of ceremonies on the inauguration day. One Krishnan was assigned the role, as he could fluently speak multiple languages – Kannada, Hindi, English, Telugu and Tamil.

We were getting ready to leave, when we heard Shanku say to Krishnan, “We all tolerate you saying ‘tashreef rakhiye’ to us, because we are friends, but please do not insult our chief guest by saying ‘tashreef rakhiye’ – especially near a toilet.” Shanku patted his backside emphatically.

That was when I decided that I should take my tashreef away.

Jokes apart:

A lot is being done by many agencies in increasing the number of public toilets and their cleanliness, especially cities and larger towns of India. However, a lot more needs to be done. You can get feel of the magnitude of the problem by reading some all-India data here, here, and here.

We need a lot more social enterprises addressing this need till the tipping point is reached – and hope that some of the start-ups and social entrepreneurs work in this area, rather than just build another app to locate the nearest public toilet.

More Such Posts here.

“My Bad” and its nuances

Musings on the use of the term “my bad”.

I first heard the term “my bad” many years ago. After my initial puzzlement, I figured that it was a new way of saying “my mistake” or “I am sorry”.

Over time I have realized that “my bad” is subtly different from “I am sorry”.  “My bad” is usually accompanied by a casual flick of the wrist and a sardonic smile. If the head is full of bouncy hair, there also the optional toss of the head.

It is like the person is saying, “I have apologized, now don’t make a fuss about it.”

I suspect (without actual data), that many folks rehearse saying “my bad” in front of a mirror. They also deliberately make the minor mistakes in their work,  or practice spilling coffee on the others – just so that they can say “my bad” in style.

I believe that the Corporate Communication team of a large organization is soon going to release a policy and guidelines document on the use of “my bad”. This is likely to be copy/pasted across the world eventually.

More to be done:

  • Clarity on the use of  derivatives like – “my worse” or “my badder”? “my worst” or “my baddest”?
  • Whether performance appraisal systems/ forms need to be modified to reflect the new terminology (what were your bads in the last period?)
  • What are the equivalent terms in other languages and regional variations in those languages (e.g., the Hindi equivalent in Delhi is likely to be different from the Hindi term used in Lucknow)
  • What is the historical origin of the term? Some say it is “my bag”.

I think I have gone on too long already – my bad!

Your comments are absolutely essential to make progress on the matter.

More Such Posts here.

“This Number is Busy” message with additional analytics

Today, I re-dialed a “missed call” from an acquaintance, and got a busy tone with the message “this number is busy” in multiple languages.

I was about to cancel the call when I heard “Press ‘1’ to know more – we are piloting an analytics engine.”

I was intrigued, and pressed “1”. Here is what was conveyed (the gist):

“93% of the time, this subscriber disconnects his outgoing calls (gender confirmed through subscriber Profile data), before these calls are picked up. Most likely (86% probability), he is trying to save his call costs. He developed this habit earlier, but continues even when the free call limit is infinity.”

“His number is also busy most of time. That is because he is either inefficient in transacting his business quickly (34% probability) or is lonely and wants to prolong the conversation (43% probability), other reasons account for the rest of the probability.”

“If you can satisfy your requirements (information needs or your own need for chatting with someone) through other means, you are likely to be better off.”

“Press ‘2’ to know information about yourself – based on the pilot analytics engine”.

I automatically pressed ‘2’ before realizing my blunder. The disembodied voice continued:

“The fact that you are calling a usually busy number and have the patience to listen to this robotic voice, indicates that you too may be looking for some company/ any kind of company.”

“There are many chatbots available on the net and as mobile apps – chatting with them may be useful (some are also free 🙂 ).”

I quickly disconnected – I had enough.

What do you think of the analytics? And the counselor Bot?
Do share your comments in the space provided below.

More Such Posts here.

Cartoon: Lifetime Warranty ~ Whose Lifetime is it Anyway?

Cartoon: Lifetime Warranty ~ Whose Lifetime is it Anyway?

Cartoon: Lifetime Warranty ~ Whose Lifetime is it Anyway?

Recently we went on a project to evaluate and buy a household appliance. Part of the sales pitch that we heard repeatedly was about warranties, with the phrase ‘lifetime warranty’ finding its way in the spiel.

I can understand the concept of warranty for a period of time (1-year, 2-years, etc.), but the concept of ‘lifetime warranty’ has me confused  — I am not sure of whose ‘lifetime’ the warranty is valid for. For example:

  • Is it the lifetime of the buyer? What happens if the buyer dies and the item is inherited by someone else? Does the warranty hold?
  • Is it the lifetime of the retail shop or the retail chain? What happens when the shop/ chain shuts down or is acquired by some other entity?
  • Is the warranty valid only as along as the item continues to function (live) – and the warranty expires as soon as the item stops functioning (dies)? In which case there is no warranty.
  • Is the warranty valid only as long as the model continues to be produced?
  • Is it valid for the lifetime of the manufacturing company? Or manufacturing facility?
  • Is it valid only as long as the technology used is not obsolete? For example, can I claim the lifetime warranty on my floppy disk drive? (I may need to retrieve some of the data backed up in a floppy disk).

There are many more ways that ‘lifetime’ warranty can be interpreted.

But I leave that to your imagination. Please do share your interpretations in the in the space provided below for comments.

By the way, there may an opportunity for a start-up to provide extended lifetime warranties (on an app, of course 🙂 ).

More Such Posts here.

Fridge Inside a Cabinet: Design Thinking or Unthinking Designer?

Why are fridges / mini-fridges in hotels kept inside wooden cabinets?

Fridge Inside a Cabinet

Design Thinking or Unthinking Designer: The Curious Case of the Fridge in a Cabinet

For anyone who stays in hotel rooms, the three pictures above would be familiar. They are the pictures of a mini-fridge inside a wooden cabinet. The cabinet is usually closed from all sides, except for a small hole/ slit for the wiring. This seems to be the case in all types of hotels, regardless of their “star” rating.

Anyone who has some knowledge of refrigeration or thermodynamics or basic physics knows that the closed cabinet will get hot, because:

  1. Electricity is being burnt inside the cabinet to operate the fridge compressor. Consumption of electricity generates heat.
  2. There is no escape for the heat. Wood is not a good conductor of heat.

This generated hot air will remain between the fridge and the walls of the wooden cabinet till someone opens the cabinet door (see discussions on quora here). Because of the hot air just outside the fridge, the fridge will take longer to reach a suitably low temperature. The electricity consumption will be higher, and the compressor will have to operate for a longer time.

It is like having the hot exhaust of an air-conditioner emptying in the room that is being cooled.

So, does placing a running fridge inside a wooden cabinet meet the needs of any of the stakeholders? Let us look at each category of stakeholders, in a hotel context.

  1. Guests: The fridge does not cool properly. The drinks are not cold (lukecool? :-)). Cooked food kept in the fridge spoils quickly, and can lead to sickness. Also, one has to open 2 doors to reach the items in the fridge.
  2. Hotel Housekeeping: Guests keep complaining, and requesting for ice. The fridges break down more often, requiring repair. The insides of the fridge are also more difficult to clean. And dust gathers in the cabinet, outside the fridge.
  3. Hotel Management: Electricity bill is higher. Repair costs are higher. Risk of fire is higher. Guests can fall ill after eating stale food, and have a poor experience at the hotel. Consumption of excess electricity and generation of heat is environmentally unfriendly (contrary to the hotel’s claims of being environment conscious).

Here are some questions to consider:

  • How did this fridge-in-cabinet trend start? What were the considerations and constraints? How did this trend get adopted so widely?
  • Why is it continuing? What should be the triggers for designers to reconsider and question old designs?

Looking forward to your views. Would love to read the perspective of people who design interiors of hotel rooms!


Nothing Official About It! – The views presented above are in no manner reflective of the official views of any organization, community, group, institute, or association. They may not even be the official views of the authors :-).

Cartoon: New Revenue Source for Bangalore Traffic Police

Recently, the Bangalore traffic police have decided to impose ‘invalid parking’ fine on all vehicles that are halted in traffic jams. Some analysts project that their annual collections will shoot up between 10.3 – 12.4 times their current collections.

Cartoon: Slaves to Measurement

According to sources not willing to be identified, Bangalore traffic police is toying with the idea of imposing ‘invalid parking’ fine on all vehicles that are halted in traffic jams. The consulting firm that suggested this initiative projected that the annual collections will shoot up between 10.3 – 12.4 times their current collections.

It may also motivate the drivers who get stuck in jams to find innovative solutions to avoid traffic snarls.

Pilot / trial implementation may have already started.

This idea surely beats the Delhi ‘odd-even’ solution to manage traffic.:-)

Bangalore Traffic is also planning to use this initiative to apply for the ‘Most Jugaadu Innovation of the year’ award instituted by Daily Jugaad.

Do share your comments in the space provided below.

More Such Posts here.

Increase Chances of Becoming a Donor (organs/ body)- Take Action Now!

Be proactive to increase the chances of becoming a donor – inform your family members, convince them and make it easy for them to perform your desired donations

Organ Donation LogoAugust 13, 2016 is being observed as the Organ Donation Day in India.

Briefly, one can donate tissues, organs and the whole body. Donations can take place under three circumstances:

  1. Donations when alive and conscious. Examples of these include blood, stem cells, bone marrow, kidney (only one), and segments of liver, pancreas, lung, or intestine, and are limited by what can be given without affecting the health of the donor.
  2. Donations when ‘brain dead.’ These include organs that can be transplanted such as heart, liver, pancreas, intestine, 2 kidneys, and 2 lungs. Tissues such as corneas, bone, skin, heart valves, tendons, and veins can also be used.
  3. Donations within a short time of typical death. Some organs/ tissues can be used for others, for example corneas harvested within a few hours after death can be used to give sight to someone. You can also donate any part of your body — like the brain — for research and use by the medical community. Finally you can donate your whole body to a medical college, usually to the anatomy department, so that students can study it and gain experience.

You may be very keen to donate, but you are not the person who will be taking action and doing the donation once you are dead (or brain-dead). Someone else, usually one or more of your close family members will be performing the actual actions required for the donation. Enrolling in donor’s lists may make you feel you are a “donor”, but the deed is not done until the organ or tissue is removed at the right time.

So, what should you do now (before you are brain-dead or dead) to increase the chances of successful donations? Here is a list of things that you can do:

  1. Discuss your desire to donate in detail with all your close family members. Convince them and ask for their commitment to help this happen when you are dying or are dead. Be persuasive. Explain to them what to do in case of brain-death and after death.
  2. Document your desire clearly. Write down your wish to donate (like a will), sign it, and make copies. Give copies to your close family members. Put copies in important files. Laminate a copy and hang it at home, where it is visible. This writing down will remind your loved ones of your desire. It will also make it easier for them to cope with doubts or criticisms that others may have regarding their actions relating to the donation. And who knows, it may inspire others too.
  3. Make the donation easy for your family after your death. Make sure the correct and up-to-date actual contact names, organization names, phone numbers and addresses that are required for performing the donation are readily available and that the family members know about them. Write down a possible sequence of activities to be done.

Enrolling yourself as a potential donor with different organizations is a good first step. But remember that these organizations will not know of your death or brain-dead status when that happens (nor will you be in any state to inform them :-)). Finally, your family members have to decide to donate or not, even if you have signed up as a potential donor.

So you need to be more proactive to actually increase the chances of becoming a donor. Inform your family members, convince them and make it easy for them to perform your desired donations. This may be more important than signing up a with a lot of organizations and collecting their badges, t-shirts and enrollment cards.

By the way, your family members can donate your organs/ tissues/ body even if you are not enrolled :-).

Many basic concepts related to various types of donations, and also information on the various steps and procedures can be seen at this link:  FAQ on Organ/ Body/ Brain/ Eye Donation. Additional comments are available at: Voluntary body donation: some thoughts in response to queries I get.

Why is the CVV Number Printed on Credit Cards?

Printing of CVV numbers on credit cards makes it easy to commit online credit card frauds. Smudge the CVV number to protect yourself.

The CVV number is a 3 or 4 digit number (associated with a credit card) that is used for verification in case of Card Not Present (CNP) transactions. CVV stands for Card Verification Value and is also called Card Security Code (CSC), Card Verification Code (CVC), Verification code (V-code or V code), and Signature Panel Code (SPC).

Card CVV Number

CVV numbers are used to authenticate the card, as an additional security measure when the card is used in online transactions. It is like an ATM pin.

I am unable to understand why the CVV number is printed on the card, whereas the ATM pin is provided to the card holder separately.

Every time the credit card is used (for swiping), the staff at the outlet have access to the card. They can copy/ remember all the details on the card and later the same details can be used to place online orders. Also, if the card is stolen, the thief has most of the details necessary to place online orders on many shopping sites.

Printing the CVV number on the card is like printing the ATM Pin on the card.

So, can someone please throw some light on why the CVV numbers are still being printed on credit cards, while the same card companies are resorting to sophisticated security systems to prevent fraud?

In the meantime, all of us may be safer if we smudge the CVV numbers from our credit cards.

By the way, the cards shown in this post are not mine :-).

More Such Posts here.

Recycle Greywater to Reduce Urban Water Needs

Reduce the water requirement of our cities by 30-35% by implementing greywater recycling.

Some weeks ago, there was a buzz in our residential complex about having to set up “grey water” processing, because it may be made mandatory by the municipality. I got curious and started investigating the topic.

At the end of my study I was left wondering why it was not yet mandatory – grey water processing, when fully implemented, could reduce the water requirements in cities by 30-35%!!
Continue reading “Recycle Greywater to Reduce Urban Water Needs”