The mothers like myself that make dinner, arrange tomorrow’s breakfast, and help with homework all at the same time are truly remarkable. I do that all the time. I have uncanny ability to multi-task. A skill we are raised to praise and admire. If I can juggle five things at once, I’ll be more effective. If more effective, more productive. If more productive, more successful. The more successful, the happier. Generally women are said to have learnt the art of doing this. It all makes sense.
Killing two birds with one stone optimizes time and leads to greater efficiency. But does efficiency lead to happiness? I don’t think so.We seek to maximize efficiency by breaking ourselves up. The more tasks at once, the more we split. Why waste time just driving when you can call a friend at the same time? But that way you are never 100 percent focused on either the road or your friend. When you multi-task you can’t give yourself to the present. Instead, you sacrifice now for later with the hopes of future happiness. If I can get two done now, I’ll have more time then.
When you are in a meeting and responding to emails, you are not giving either the whole of you. Don’t you deserve that? You deserve that. Or at least you want that. But when you do another, anything at the same time, you take away from that. There’s a reason you are there, a reason you are talking.
Whatever your reasons, it seems like multitasking is part of our 21st century cultural norm, which we no longer question. Except of course for the pop psychology pundits whose articles explain the benefits of doing one thing at a time.
Imagine what you could hear, learn and share if you were 100 percent present in a conversation. You multi-task everything. You’re probably multi-tasking right now. Music is playing in the background, another document open, something is always begging for your attention. How often do you give in?
What if you didn’t? What if you chased one rabbit at a time? What if you did one thing at a time? All the time? Instead of talking on the phone at your kid’s soccer game, or watching TV while cooking dinner, or doing anything while doing another, what if you focused on one thing, one business problem, and one conversation?
You would be more focused, apt, and adaptive and therefore a better decision maker. The better you can solve problems, the more productive, more successful, more happy. And isn’t that the point?
Avoid multitasking for one day. Try it.
Trying to block out interruptions more than usual, here’s what I found.
- I proceeded through my tasks efficiently.
- I was able to achieve my “flow state” of total (contented, productive) immersion more quickly and for a longer sustained period.
- I brought my day to a close earlier than usual, by almost two hours.
Now this may have nothing to do with intentionally avoiding the routine red zone. The hours I’ve been keeping have been excessive, which likely explains why I needed a period of not multitasking. My brain knows it’s tired.
Ten hour days, every day of the week? Eventually, the mind rebels. You cannot effectively multitask even if you try.
Multitasking is just a fancy word for being unfocused.