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In Praise of Unitaskers

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Much has been written in recent years about the benefits of multitasking. Why do just one thing when you could be juggling two or three? It’s much more efficient that way, isn’t it?

Maybe not. Recent studies have shown that multitasking often leads to decreased productivity. Simply put, the brain isn’t wired for doing several unrelated tasks at the same time. Trying to do so leads to mediocre performance and tasks that need to be redone.

By the same token, many people think why buy a single purpose device when you can get a Swiss Army knife, a Leatherman tool or something else that will do many different things? Some cooks even claim that single purpose tools do nothing more than clutter up a kitchen.

But they’re wrong. Duct tape notwithstanding, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to design a single device to do multiple tasks well.

That’s not to say that multitaskers don’t have their place. The aforementioned Leatherman tools and Swiss Army knives are a lot easier to carry on a camping trip than a toolbox. But if you’re working under the hood of your car, would you rather use a Swiss Army knife screwdriver or a real, single purpose screwdriver with a proper handle? If you’re cutting wrapping paper, would you rather use a Leatherman scissors or a real pair of shears you can get a proper grip on?

For the most part,  the same holds true for machinery. Take for example a certain high-priced vacuum cleaner sold door to door. It’s pitched as a total home solution useful for everything from cleaning the rugs to spraying paint and sanding wood.

Here’s the little secret the sales reps don’t mention. The machine’s basic configuration is that of an upright carpet vacuum. Changing that takes time and a little bit of effort. It’s a pain in the neck to change the attachments and some functions don’t work nearly as well as a dedicated device would. The bottom line — it’s a fantastic machine for cleaning carpets. For everything else, it’s kind of frustrating.

Another example is a popular 5-in-1 woodworking machine. It’s touted as a way to have a complete woodshop in a fraction of the space, and a fraction of the cost of separate equipment. But once again, it does some tasks well, some not so well.

It all comes down to a matter of compromise. To be able to do some tasks at all, the multitasker must compromise its functions to a greater or lesser degree.

Now compare those to a particular kitchen machine — a rice cooker. Unlike the previous two devices, it is dedicated to only one purpose — cooking rice perfectly.  It doesn’t make coffee, it doesn’t heat soup, it doesn’t open cans. No compromise necessary. It does its one task superbly.

Yes, it takes up space. No, it doesn’t do anything a common pot of water couldn’t do. But if you want perfect rice, frequently, it’s an ideal single purpose machine.

Having said that, does the world really need THIS ?

Probably not.

The key is to choose your multitaskers — and your unitaskers — wisely.  For many things, in many places, compromise isn’t a problem. But for some jobs, only the right tool will do.


About The Walrus

Welcome. I am the Walrus. As the Lewis Carroll quote implies, I am interested in many things. News, sports, business, cars, planes, boats, pop culture of all sorts, science, technology, literature, music, art, you name it. I’m quite opinionated, and always appreciate other people who are. Let me know what you think.

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