Mental Multitasking

There is a common stereotype of programmers, which is that they are inherently good at multitasking due to the type of work we do. The idea is that you’re dealing with all sorts of things at once – the analogy of “juggling chainsaws” is often mentioned, as is how disruptive any sort of interrupting is for this complex mental gymnastics that we are supposedly doing.

Now, I am a programmer (and a reasonably good one, by all accounts), and I think that many of these sterotypes apply to me as well… yet despite all of that, in real life I actually am terrible when it comes to multitasking.

This comes as rather a surprise (not the least to myself) – you’d think that with all the mental juggling I have to do when coding, some of that skill at least would transfer into other things – yet it doesn’t. I actually struggle when, for example, cooking and trying to bring multiple dishes together at the same time.

I wonder – do any other programmers or coders or similarly-minded people out there have the same sort of problem? That you can multi-task like crazy in your preferred domain, but in anything else you’re absolutely hopless? I’d like to think it’s not just me, but I honestly don’t know for sure – if you’re reading this, let me know what your experiences are!

By Keith Survell

A geek, programmer, amateur photographer, anime fan and crazy rabbit person.


  1. I think I’m actually the reverse. I have to multitask to do well in my primary task. I have to have ambient bg sound playing when I’m transcribing, have to be thinking about something I have to do later when I’m teaching, have to be picking up the apt. as the food I’m making is cooking. If I don’t, it’ll be sub-par at best. But my secondary task will always be done much worse.

    1. Interesting! As someone who is very used to having to focus very carefully on the task at hand, it’s almost impossible for me to conceive of the reverse – needing to be multitasking in order to do anything well.

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