Chip Is Alive!, Issue 17

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Welcome to Issue 17 of Chip Is Alive!, where we examine thought-provoking life strategies and issues which may or may not be of interest to you. Chip Is Alive! is inspired by Chip Vivant, the app who thinks he's alive and wants to be your friend and help you in ways that other productivity apps can't. You can meet Chip at

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In this issue, we'll discuss:

  • the myth of multitasking
  • Chip when you travel

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The Myth of Multitasking

I consider myself an expert multitasker. It seems to be wired into my DNA. Switching from one task to another doesn't fluster me. I've also heard that people who speak multiple foreign languages have trouble switching between languages. This isn't an issue with me either: I can effortlessly switch between English, French and Dutch, all of which I speak fluently. When I have multiple things on my To-Do list, I'll do a little of this, then a little of that. The boring tasks often fall by the wayside (sometimes for many months), but hey, I'm cool, adaptive and flexible. I used to be smugly proud of my multitasking abilities until a couple of months ago.

The first prick in the inflated balloon which was my ego came from The Lean Startup[1]. The author recounts a task of stuffing newsletters into envelopes: each envelope needed to be stamped, addressed, filled with a newsletter and sealed. A father and his two daughters all worked on this task, but in different ways: the daughters first folded each of the newsletters, then they stuffed each in an envelope, then they sealed each envelope, then they stamped each envelope, then they addressed each envelope. The father did each newsletter envelope one at a time. (Just the thought of doing it this way makes my skin crawl.)

Counterintuitively enough, the father's way was the most efficient, and according to the book, this has been confirmed by many studies. Even though it seems like one would perform the same subtask (like stamping an envelope) increasingly more efficiently as you repeat that subtask multiple times, it still doesn't counteract the inefficiencies of shuffling around half-stuffed envelopes, etc. What's more, the author continues, even if the one-at-a-time method didn't take less time than the one-subtask-at-a-time method, it would still be superior because of the ability to detect process errors earlier in the flow. (What if the envelopes are too small for the newsletters, but we've already put postage stamps on all of them? Oops.)

A training class I'm taking reiterated this. There's a cost associated from starting a task, being interrupted, then going back into the task again. This is where I pride myself on being able to "go back into" a task faster than most people, but I'd be deluding myself if I said that the time needed for this was zero. (Keep in mind that the core issue here is multitasking when you can choose not to multitask. For the "low-priority life To-Do" stuff that Chip addresses, you don't have the luxury of taking six months off to go to Madrid to learn Spanish, so you are forced to make the best of what you have. Case in point: it became painfully obvious with juggling that fifteen minutes a day wasn't going to cut it. It was taking me ten minutes just to get to where I was the day before.)

The nail in the coffin for my misguided multitasking pride was an article in The Atlantic entitled Study: If You Multitask Often, You're Impulsive and Bad at Multitasking[2] Ouch. It's a pretty damning article, especially the conclusion which accuses people who multitask often as poor self-assessors and prone to ADD-type behavior. Double-ouch, but unfortunately, it describes me to a T. I've been able to accomplish a lot of things in my life, but after reading this stuff, I'd honestly have to say that it's despite my impulsive and ADD-type behavior rather than because of it, and that I'd probably have been able to accomplish a lot more, or at least follow through on many more things if I didn't possess this shortcoming which I previously thought was a talent. Ah well - better late than never.

Juggling Update

No juggling, since I've been kind of demotivated at my lack of progress and how difficult this is turning out to be for me. (Plus I've got a three-month deadline for a critical project which is consuming my mental energy.) That said, I've put myself out there, so I'm going to look dumb if I don't end up ultimately achieving this.

Chip's Tips: Have Chip, Will Travel

If you're traveling to a different time zone and want to keep Chip's messages accurate for that time zone, don't forget to log into your account and change your current timezone on the Settings page. (You can use the Auto-Detect feature.) Also, don't forget to change it back when you're back home. (For extra credit, you can have Chip remind of you this using a notification.)

Web References

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