alex petralia

2017-09-06 (last updated: 2017-10-29)

multi-tasking: monkeymind for the modern professional

“Are you a good multi-tasker?”

The classic interview question. It’s great because it’s an effective filter.

That is, it helps candidates filter out firms which prioritize “being busy” over “deep work.”


There is abundant research demonstrating that multi-tasking hampers productivity due to switching and startup costs (apparently it also makes you stupider). This is what startup costs look like:

What I recently considered more deeply is how multi-tasking at work parallels the monkeymind at home.

Mind monkey

The monkeymind is that adrenaline-pumped feeling you get when your mind darts from thought to thought, dragging along all the emotions tied to them like cans on the end of a just-married car. High-alert, high-sensitivity. It’s most noticeable when you’re trying to fall asleep, but also appears when you’re anxious or stressed or overwhelmed. The monkeymind originates from the mind monkey in eastern philosophy, which represents the feeling of being “unsettled, restless, capricious, erratic and uncontrolled.” These are obviously not adjectives to which anyone aspires.

Quieting the monkeymind is something we intuitively recognize as good in our personal lives[1], yet it is something we ignore in our professional lives. Multi-tasking epitomizes distracted, unfocused and half-baked work. It is no more than the monkeymind in disguise. And it is no better at the office than it is at home.


[1] Tim Ferriss and Naval Ravikant explain in great length the perils (and sometimes utility) of the untamed monkeymind.