Plate-Spinning Productivity: MultiTasking That Works

by ToriDeaux on March 27, 2007

Multi-tasking is generating a lot of blog chatter lately; recent studies suggest that trying to accomplish a lot of things at once does not make us more productive, rather, actually seems to make us less efficient. (well.. er.. yeah we knew that, we just like to deny it.) And now, there is evidence from MRI’s to show that the brain isn’t equiped to focus on more than one task at a time. If forced to multi-task, there’s a neural bottleneck, and everything takes just a little bit longer.

And yet, one of the uber-organized gurus I used to spend time with made multi-tasking work for him.

It was amazing to watch, really. He called it “keeping the plates spinning,” referring to the juggler’s act of balancing spinning plates on sticks, shown here:

His trick was to apply just enough energy to each task/ project/ client/ family member/ hobby that each of them would maintain momentum and stay balanced until he could get back and give them another spin. It was really beautiful to watch – especially when I got a birds-eye-view as one of the plates he kept in motion.

A key to his technique seemed to be that he didn’t focus on each “plate” as a separate task: instead of dividing his attention between plates/tasks, he focused on one goal: keep the multi-tasking in motion. So he had one primary centering focus (keep the plates spinning, keep all projects in motion) accomplished through many much smaller, one-at-a-time tasks (spin this plate, then that one, pay attention to whichever task is wobbling, then the next one).

By focusing on the gestalt, there were no multiple-tasks to get caught up in a neurological bottleneck.

Interestingly, the method left him with a surprising amount of free time. (The performer in the video used that time to juggle glasses and eggs; my friend was more likely to juggle pretty girls, but both kept one eye on the plates, no matter what else they may be doing.)

Through watching him, I learned I didn’t need to buckle down and hyper-focus on just writing, just painting, just finances, or just cleaning house. Further, I realized that if I could learn to successfully spin ONE task, I could learn to spin many. And if I kept them all in my peripheral vision, I could potentially balance a lot more than I thought I could. Just like he did.

Mind you, I’m not saying that it’s good to do your taxes, talk on the phone, write html code, change the baby and navigate across the Brooklyn Bridge all at the same time. But certain kinds of multi-tasking can work.

Granted, it requires a great deal of skill, co-ordination, balance, timing, strong peripheral vision, and a single-minded effortless concentration on the goal of multi-tasking itself.

None of which I have, of course… but I’m learning!

In the meantime, I feel a bit like the fellow in the video below… A lot of fuss over presentation, not much actual productivity, and no spinning plates.


Erm… Anyone have any good leads on discount chinaware?

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 M.T. 04.06.07 at 4:18 pm

There’s a follow up to this post, at

2 Round and Round « One Of Many Me’s 05.02.07 at 1:06 am

[...] While reading Plate-Spinning Productivity: MultiTasking That Works I could not help but think about my own mismatched set of plates that I am trying to keep atop the poles. [...]

3 Productivité et jonglage d’assiettes tournantes 07.22.08 at 11:29 am

[...] pour réfléchir de manière créative sur un sujet. Et dernièrement, je suis tombé sur un article du blog MindTweaks qui comparait avec brio le concept du multitâche avec les jongleurs d’assiettes tournantes [...]