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What Humans Can Learn from CPUs About Multitasking

What Humans Can Learn from CPUs About Multitasking

Multitasking

Nowadays, our minds and our computers are very busy, because we have more and more tasks to accomplish in the same amount of time. We are trying multitasking, but it seems human brains are simply not designed to operate that way! When you try to do two things at the same time, you know that is will not work long term, you can only focus on one thing at a time. That said, it is possible to deal with your tasks in a manner that appears simultaneous from the perspective of hours and days. This is effective multitasking, human edition.

We are now in multicore CPU era, but we can still remember the time that we had a single core CPU and yet had a multitasking environment. My old computer was able to play music, do some background calculations, and download a file from the Internet while I was writing a text at the same time. Multitasking operating system on a CPU that can do only one thing at a time: isn’t that exactly what we need? When we look how that has been achieved, there is a great lesson to be learned for humans.

Today, nearly all operating systems support preemptive multitasking, but there were early version of Microsoft Windows that were using cooperative multitasking, which didn’t work well. According to Wikipedia, “Preemptive multitasking involves the use of an interrupt mechanism which suspends the currently executing process and invokes a scheduler to determine which process should execute next.” Let us see what humans can learn about multitasking from that concept.

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Lesson 1: Task switch is costly

What happens when task switch is initiated? We need to save the context with the intention of resuming the task at a later time. Save the context, resume another task, voila! However, it is not that easy for CPUs and it is even harder for humans. Saving context takes time and also CPUs have data cache, which stores recently used data for very quick access and switching the task will need to flush some of the cache entries. It will require some additional time to put that data back into cache. You know it probably all too well—a message pops up on your desktop when you are fully focused and it sidetracks your thought process; some cache entries are gone and it will take you minutes to regain your performance level. Lesson number 1 for humans is task switches are very, very costly!

If you react to pop-ups, enter your social media “just for one minute”, and look into your e-mail inbox every minute or two, you know why your performance suffers: your brain has to constantly save and restore the context and your “cache” is never efficient.

Lesson 2: Time boxes

Preemptive operating systems use a concept of a time slice, which is the period for which a process is allowed to run. An interruption, usually coming from a clock, will initiate a task switch. If you have a PC or Mac, this is how your CPU operates most of the time! This concept works great for CPUs, but it works even better for humans: the “Pomodoro technique” is a great example of that. I set my countdown timer and focus on just one thing. It is so powerful that it revolutionized the working style of many people.

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I have all my data in very efficient cache, so my operation is very fast: I am avoiding task switches, but at the same I am sure that I will be able to accomplish all of my tasks, because my clock will tell me when to stop and/or switch. Every task switch is costly, and timeboxes are a great way to multitask effectively.

Lesson 3: Interval is carefully chosen

When using timeboxes, the main question is what intervals should I use? If it’s too short, we’ll use too much time on task switches, instead of the actual operation. When it’s too long, other tasks suffer. Can you imagine an operating system when task switch occurs every few seconds? That would be very unresponsive and annoying. The actual interval for our operating systems is usually several milliseconds.

With humans, the problem is more complex, because we are also getting tired. We cannot switch every minute, but three hours is also unrealistic; we would be very unresponsive, but also drained from energy at the same time. A good number to start with is “Pomodoro number”25 minutes—but your personal style, energy level, work demands will influence that. Experiment and see what interval works best for you. For CPUs and operating systems, that single number is one of the most important to determine whether it is going to be responsive and have a feeling of smooth multitasking.

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Lesson 4: Interrupt handling

We are constantly dealing with interruptions in our work and CPUs handle millions of interruptions as well. What makes us very different from operating systems is that their interruption handlers are usually very, very quick and they do not require a context switch. You received a phone call, you read an email, you read a short message, and you changed a tab in your browser “just to see one thing”. It was not an interruption; it was a context switch.

If we dealt with interruptions in a similar manner that CPUs, we would simply write down some information, acknowledge that we’ve received it and resume an operation. It’s just few seconds. If it was an interruption, you did not have to switch the context. Do we really need that many interruption sources?

Lesson 5: Priorities

In operating systems, tasks have their prioritieseven interruptions have them. When handling an interruption of priority X, usually all the others with priority equal to or lower than X are blocked. It is a great lesson for us, because in many cases everything is equally important (and urgent!) and this is why we can rarely accomplish anything.

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Summary

Humans are not CPUs. Our life is not about completing tasks effectively. We are spiritual beings; we have passion, emotions, relationships, and abstract thoughts. There is a great lesson that we can take from current CPUs and operating systems, however, and that is to multitask efficiently.

Try timeboxes to eliminate task switches, observe which intervals give you satisfaction and perception of effective multitasking, handle interrupts as interrupts should be handled and write down your priorities. When you think about multitasking, CPUs and operating systems are a great source of inspiration!

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Piotr Nabielec

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Last Updated on November 20, 2020

How to Type Faster: 12 Typing Tips and Techniques

How to Type Faster: 12 Typing Tips and Techniques

Do you know that being able to type faster makes you more productive? In fact, it’ll save you 21 days every year just by typing faster!

Many people look up to master typists and wish that they could handle a keyboard like they do. The truth is that none of them started that way, and they had to learn.

How can you learn how to type faster?

In this article, you’ll learn 12 useful fasting typing tips and techniques.

1. Improve Your Workspace

Many people believe that fast and correct typing will start when you can master the keyboard. However, the truth is that you will need to begin with getting a workspace that is clean, properly ventilated, and comfortable. Also, for optimal typing, you will need to get a table and not work with your laptop or computer on your lap.

If you will be working for an extended period, make sure that you’re comfortable.

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2. Fix Your Posture

If you want to type well, the correct posture will be seated, straight backed, and with your feet planted a little apart, flat on the ground. You wrists should also be positioned in such a way that your fingers can cover the keyboard. Tilt your head a bit as you can look at the screen properly as well.

Adjust your office chair so you’ll be able to easily play with the seat and get a proper posture[1].

Learn how to type faster with correct posture.

    3. Hold Your Posture

    It is also very important that you keep this position as you type. Ensure that your posture is good, and this way, you will be able to avoid getting aches on your wrists. These aches have a way of slowing you down and keeping you out of rhythm.

    Keep your back and shoulders from hunching, and while relaxation should be your key goal as you work on, also be sure to stay upright.

    4. Familiarize Yourself with the Keyboard

    The keyboard is your tool here, so you will need to get to know it. Fortunately for you, most keyboards that you see will make use of the same layout; the QWERTY layout. It is called that because of the letters that make the top left corner. You’ll also find that a lot of keyboards have keys around these main ones that do several things.

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    Here’s a nice video to help you familiarize yourself with the keyboard:

    Work on memorizing the positions of the letter keys, as well as some of the most used punctuation marks. You will need to understand where they are without looking at the keyboard. This is the only way you can learn to type fast.

    5. Close Your Eyes and Say the Keys out Loud as You Press Them

    Another great way to get to know the positions of these letters is to look away from them and directly at the screen. Then, pronounce the keys as you press them and see if you’re correct. This step will go a long way in helping you to memorize the keys, and it can easily help you learn how to type faster.

    6. Start Slowly With Touch-Typing

    Improving your speed as you type is a matter of developing your muscle memory over time. However, the quickest way to master typing will be learning touch typing[2]. If this is your first time with touch typing, then you might spend a lot of time on this step. However, once you can type key combinations without looking at the keyboard layout, your speed will increase.

    7. Don’t Look at Your Hands

    The whole essence of this step is to keep you from looking at your keyboard as you type so that your fingers are made to learn how the keys work.

    Again, you might find that your speed reduces when you begin, but just stick to it. Touch typing will help you to reach higher speeds and master it.

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    8. Practice, Practice, Practice

    Mastering the touch typing technique will prove to be a bit finicky, but once your posture is up and you get your fingers where they should be, you can only improve by practicing.

    Spare some time on a daily basis to practice and master both accuracy and speed. With continuous practice, you will also notice that you make fewer errors with time.

    9. Check out Some Online Typing Games

    There are also some websites that can help you with your practicing. They score you and record your words per minute, so you can try improving your record and competing with others as well. Here are some of the best sites:

    10. Dictation Practice

    If you don’t know what you can write, another alternative to getting good practice is to listen to something and try to type as you hear the words. There is no limit to the kind of things you can write, and you can even make the practice process more fun.

    Get an e-book, an online lecture, or listen to a TV show or talk show.

    11. Monitor Your Progress

    Ensure that you keep track of the progress you make as you go on. However, it is important that you don’t get obsessed with how many words you are able to type in a minute. Rather, ensure that you stay comfortable while you’re practicing. With time, your words per minute will increase, and you’ll be able to clock up some high numbers.

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    12. Get Some Formal Training

    There are many specially designed courses and typing lessons that will boost your abilities. If you’re willing to improve your skill, get any of these and see how well they work for you:

    The Bottom Line

    Typing is a skill that takes time to develop, but with practice and dedication, you can learn how to get faster at typing and improve your productivity on a day-to-day basis.

    One day, you may even improve your typing so much that you reach 40 wpm!

    More Tips on How to Type Faster

    Featured photo credit: Cytonn Photography via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Well: Working WELL anywhere
    [2] Techopedia: Touch Typing

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