Just thrashing around

Our computer sometimes runs slowly for no apparent reason (or no reason that’s apparent to me with my limited technical understanding). I’m told it’s ‘thrashing’.

Thrashing was explained to me thus:

A computer appears to do many things at the same time but in reality, the processor is doing only one thing at once. It then stops doing that thing, sets aside the information it was working on and moves to the next task. Sooner or later, it comes back to the first task, picks up the information it set aside, and carries on. So, one task gets interrupted by another, which interrupts another, which interrupts another. Eventually, everything gets done but, when there are too many tasks and interruptions piled one on top of another, the process of setting information aside and starting another task itself becomes a significant proportion of the effort the processor has to expend. In other words, the computer is spending more time swapping from one task to another than actually processing the tasks. The usual cause is because memory or other resources have become exhausted or too limited to perform needed operations.

It reminded me of how I work sometimes – I start on a document, realise that I need something from an email I’ve sent so I open up my email programme. As I do so, I notice something that’s just arrived in my inbox, think to myself ‘well, I can tell from the title that I can just answer that quickly’ so I bash out a response. Then a colleague asks me a question, so I swing round in my chair to give her my full attention. Hang on, is that the phone? Yes – so I excuse myself, break off from the conversation and take the call. The caller wants me to send him some info, so I scribble a note in my pad and turn back to my colleague – she’s in the middle of something else now so I make a mental note to catch her later. In the meantime, a response to the email I quickly answered drops into my inbox, thanking me for my prompt reply but making several other queries – like those supplementary questions added on to seemingly innocuous tabled questions in parliament. Argh! I steel myself to ignore it for now and turn back to the original document … remind me, what was the info I was looking for?

thrashing blurry exhausted overworked

Realistically, we can’t isolate ourselves completely from interruptions. Even if we physically isolate ourselves from others and switch off phones etc, we can still somehow interrupt ourselves. Like the definition says, it can happen when resources are exhausted or too limited. Distracting thoughts; feeling too hot or cold, thirsty or hungry, stressed or bored; not having everything we need to hand before starting: all of these things can lead us to thrash around and achieve little.

There’s no easy solution to this. I need to plan and prioritise. Sadly, even doing that doesn’t wave a magic wand and guarantee I won’t thrash. I have to notice that I’m thrashing and choose to stop right there and re-focus.

Today’s pebble for you: Do you ever thrash? If so, how do you deal with it?

Any thoughts?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’d like to make progress in your work and life, why not email me to see how we could work together?

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