doin’?” a familiar voice behind me said.
I spun around in my chair,
wondering why my plumber, Sam, was here again. Hadn’t he bled my bank
account dry yet?
Sam stood there grinning,
holding a big box of plumbing parts. “Just thought I’d check in on my
favorite bigshot author while I was here to swap in these parts for
that walk-in tub in yer new guest house. So, whatcha doing?”
I pressed the MUTE button on my
phone and took off my headset. “I’m on the phone with my coworker in
San Diego,” I hissed. “Plus I’m typing an e-mail to my agent and . . .”
I pointed to my computer, “. . . I’m instant-messaging a friend of mine
on Facebook. And on top of that, I’m trying to get my monthly column
written. I’m two weeks late on it.”
Sam stepped in closer and
squinted at the headline of my column. “Sorry, I fergot my glasses.” He
pressed a grimy finger to my screen. “What’s the title of yer column?”
“It’s what I’m doing right now.
Multitasking. Doing several things at once. It’s how I get things
Sam raised an eyebrow. “Sounds
to me like it’s a way fer a feller to not get things done. But you know
better than me, I guess. How long you been working on that there
I looked at my daily time
record. “An hour and forty-two minutes.”
Sam leaned in close to the
screen and squinted at the bottom of the document. “And you got how
many words wrote already? Whooee, you sure type fast.” He whipped out
his calculator and punched in some numbers. “That’s two hunnert and
fifty-six words divided by a hunnert and forty-two minutes, gives you
1.802816901 words per minute.”
I scowled at him. “An hour and
forty-two minutes is a hundred two, not a hundred forty-two.”
“Me a kelpa.” Sam thunked the
side of his head. “I’ll just run them numbers again.” He jabbed at the
calculator keys for half a minute. “2.509803922 words per minute!
That’s twiced as fast as I type, so it looks like this multitaxing
thing works good for you.”
“I can type eighty words per
“Hold on just a secont.” Sam
dug his finger into his ear and worked it hard, gouging out a glob of
earwax. He cleaned it primly on my mouse pad. “There, ain’t that
something, what you can build up in yer ear? I guess I wasn’t hearing
so good, because I thought I heard ya say ya can type eighty words a
“I can type
Sam grabbed my head and torqued
it around. “That’s funny, but yer ear looks mighty clean. Want me to—”
“No!” I yanked away from him.
“Well, I guess I ain’t no
bigshot author, but it seems to me that a feller that says he can type
eighty words in a minute oughta actually be typing
that fast, or else he’s just blowing smoke.”
“Writing’s more than just
typing. It’s complicated.”
Sam looked at me. “I guess if
you say so, then it’s so. But I bet it ain’t as complicated as them
there new septic systems. Whewee! You want complicated, that’s
complicated. But anyways, it sounds to me like this here multitaxing
thing makes you type slow.”
“Nonsense. A good multitasker
can do five or six things at once.”
Sam shrugged his massive
shoulders. “Maybe you ain’t no good at it, then. Or maybe multitaxing
just makes ya stupid, you think?”
For an instant, I wanted to
punch Sam. But since he weighs in at about three hundred pounds of
solid muscle, I wasn’t sure he’d notice.
Sam hefted his box of plumbing
parts. “Well, I better git to work. I oughta be done in a couple hours.
No hurry, though. I only got a couple other things on my plate today.
There’s a clogged sink at the Joneses’ place and a busted hot water
heater over to the Burds’ house.”
I watched him walk out and
thought for a couple of minutes. Then I tuned in again on the phone
conversation on my headset. My buddy Jeff was still explaining the
details of his installer glitch.
I call you back?” I said. “I’d suggest you Google the error message
you’re getting and see what you find. The Web knows all.”
Without waiting for an answer, I
hung up. Then I begged off the instant-message session and logged out
of Facebook. I spent thirty seconds finishing up my e-mail to my agent,
hit the SEND button, and shut down my e-mail program.
I opened a Web browser and
Googled the phrase Does multitasking make you stupid?
An instant later, I had a long
series of articles to choose from. I scanned through them to get the
gist of it.
I discovered that multitasking
costs you from 30 to 50 percent in efficiency.
I discovered that a single
interruption can make you lose more than twenty minutes of time getting
back into the groove.
I discovered that experiments
show that multitasking actually lowers your IQ by approximately ten
points, which is about the effect you’d get from losing a night’s sleep
and two and a half times the loss you’d get from smoking a joint of
It took me five minutes to read
Inspired, I started typing. In
twenty minutes, I had my column done and e-mailed to my editor. By
then, I had a response back from my agent with a couple of follow-up
questions for me. I took two minutes and drilled out an answer and sent
a roll now, I sent another
e-mail to the friend I’d been IMing on Facebook and wrapped up the
conversation we’d been having, with five minutes of furious typing in
which I came close to hitting the eighty words per minute that I’d told
I called back my friend in San
Diego, only to discover that he’d found the answer on Google and was
already testing it on our product.
By this time, I was starting to
realize what a genius Sam the plumber is. The man may use fractured
grammar, but he understands business processes and productivity.
I looked at my to-do list for
the day. Eighteen items, and I’d already knocked off four of them. I
thought for a second and realized that the eighth item on the list was
the most important: develop a low-level math library to solve a broad
class of problems that I’ve been wanting to solve for ages. If I could
get that one done, the day would be a success. But I’d been putting it
off for weeks because finding a four-hour block of focused time to
write that library seemed impossible for a busy guy like me.
I shut down my e-mail program
again, unplugged the phone, and closed my office door. Four hours. I
could do this in four hours, couldn’t I? With no interruptions, I
Nine hours later, I committed
the library to my online software repository, sat back, and pumped the
air with my fist. The job had taken more than twice as long as I’d
expected, but only because I took it a lot farther than I’d expected. I
had not only written the library, I’d written a test routine, found a
bug, fixed it, refactored the library to include a second algorithm,
tested that, and added in some extra tools that I just dreamed up. All
of that normally would have been about a week’s worth of work. I’d done
it all in nine hours. I’d have to call Sam and give him a little reward
for helping me break the multitasking habit.
I walked out of my office and
decided to make sure the new walk-in tub actually worked. I strolled
over to the new guest house.
Sam was sitting on a footstool,
holding a wrench and talking on the phone. When he saw me, he said,
“Okay, lookit, just shut off the water main and I’ll be over in a
couple hours.” He snapped his phone shut and grinned at me. “Well I
thought you was nuts with that multitaxing thing, but sure enough it
“It . . . what?” I stared at
the half-installed faucet assembly. “Why aren’t you finished yet?”
Sam nodded. “Ain’t that
something? Here, I thought this job was gonna be two hours, but then I
got the idea to try out yer multitaxing thing and start the Joneses
working on that clogged sink at the same time. So I called the Missus
up and talked her through it all. Took twiced as long as it would have
if I’d been there, and I billed her for the whole thing, and
I didn’t waste no gas money going way out there. And
I was billing you at the same time. I guess that’s why you call it
I couldn’t find words to express
Sam plowed on, oblivious. “Then
I called up Old Man Burd and we was going great on changing out that
hot water heater until he busted the doohickey trying to turn it the
wrong direction. Whooey! That’s gonna be some extra money when I get
I felt like throwing up.
“And the best part is that this
here job, which woulda only took me two hours. I’ve clocked in at eight
hours regular time plus a hour and a half overtime. Course it looks
like it might only go another hour, now that I’ve ran out of things to
multitax it with.”
I leaned against the wall,
fighting the urge to scream.
Sam cracked his knuckles on both
hands. A satisfied expression filled his enormous face. “I guess I owe
you something for teaching me how it’s done, don’t I? But you, being a
bigshot author, you’d probably be insulted if I was to give you a
little toking of my appreciation, so—”
“Go ahead and insult me,” I
Sam is irony-challenged, and he
gave me a look like I’d just asked him to kick a puppy. “I couldn’t
never insult you. Not after you tipped me off on this multitaxing
thing. But I bet you know a hunnert ways to squeeze it fer all it’s
worth, don’tcha? Yer King of Multitaxers, that’s what you are.”
I sighed deeply.
If it’s true that multitasking
makes you stupid, then Sam had just given me the king of all insults.
But after a full day of focused
single-tasking, I decided I didn’t have a thing to complain about.