‘Don’t Chop Water When You Should Be Carrying Wood’

‘Don’t Chop Water When You Should Be Carrying Wood’
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This quote comes from a 13-year-old girl, responding to the old proverb, “chop wood, carry water”, which is a good reminder for focusing on the physical to avoid getting distracted and stay present. But the girl’s version is particularly interesting it’s also a good way of pointing at our lack of ability to multitask.

Photo by DGriebeling

Michael J. Formica, writing about the quote in Psychology Today, elaborates:

Contrary to popular belief, human beings cannot multitask. What we are capable of is handling a number of serial tasks in rapid succession, or mixing automatic tasks with those that are not so automatic. That’s one of the reasons that the NTSB reports that texting while driving is the functional equivalent of driving with a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit. You just can’t effectively attend to two things at once – even the superficially automatic ones.

Trying to perform true multitasking just gets your wires crossed, so just don’t do it. Handle your tasks in order and you’ll be better off.

5 Steps for Being Present [Psychology Today]


  • I was going to say that multitasking is fairly easy for me, but on reflection most of the things I multitask are those that require about three neurons each. Juggling two or three or twelve of those at once still leaves enough spare brain to be bored with. Trying to add a genuinely complex or new task to the mix, however, can bring the whole edifice crashing down as the new item grabs mental resources indiscriminately like Windows grabbing RAM.

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