Saturday, December 18, 2010

Multi-tasking is good!?

Multitasking is a good thing, right?  I mean, in this age of extreme time poverty, being able to do more than one thing in any given moment is extremely valuable.  I remember having a phone conversation with Mark T. while he was using an exercise machine.  I really like talking on the phone while cooking or cleaning, especially if the phone conversation is insightful, yet relaxed.

I find myself multitasking quite a bit.  I'm making food, talking on the phone and explaining to Zachary that 'th' can have two types of sound.  Somewhere in there, I answer the door, clean up pencil shavings from the floor, and narrowly rescue the dinner from burning.  The day becomes a constant adrenaline rush. I'm wondering if I'm addicted.

I'm doing task one on my list for today.  Before I even know what I'm doing, my mind is off on another task, and my body is hurrying to follow.  I constantly scan the mental 'to-do' list and indulgently touch a bit of item 4, then hop over to item 7, then back to item 2, just to have item 4 un-pause itself and demand my attention again.  As I run from task to task, I'm noticing that by early afternoon, I'm exhausted, yet with a nagging feeling of not getting anything done.  That nagging feeling can spur me to an even greater flurry of multi-tasking activity.  This seems to bear out Lord Chesterfield's point:

“... steady and undissipated attention to one object, is a sure mark of a superior genius; as hurry, bustle, and agitation, are the never-failing symptoms of a weak and frivolous mind.”

While I admit resistance to the idea of a 'weak and frivolous mind', my multitasking behaviors seem to work for some tasks, and not for others.  While crocheting and watching tv can happen for me at the same time (I can crochet without looking at my hands all the time, and much of my tv watching is tv listening), crocheting and driving cannot.  Perhaps that's because they use the same set of resources (my hands and eyes).  I would have to stop crocheting to drive (drive well, anyway).  In fact, the multitasking that I typically do, requires me to stop (paying attention to) one thing, so that I can pay attention to the other.  The 3-4 activities highest on the list jostle for the top, constantly replacing each other.

A friend of mine had declared 2010 the "Year of Mono-Tasking" (doing one thing at a time).   I'm thinking of adopting that for 2011 with a few modifications.  First, let's define multitasking as 'doing any 2 or more things at the same time without an apparent reduction in the execution efficiency for each individual thing.' So, driving and listening to my audiobooks works in that definition, but playing the flute and typing email does not.  Even with my driving example, there is some kind of built in priority in the tasks so if it becomes critical to really pay attention to one (a deer runs across the street), the higher priority task (driving safely) takes over all the resources and multitasking stops.

By my own definition, much of what I called multitasking was really just mono-tasking, without me finishing the task I started.  I do gain an illusion of enterprise and industry.  Because of the perpetual list of open items screaming for attention, I stop being fully in the moment with any one item.  I stop being present.  In addition to that, it takes almost the entire day to complete any one thing!

I will give myself the present of being present this holiday season.
  • So I will schedule the things I need to get done (yes, write it down. sigh) and I will finish what I start.  If I don't finish a task within the allotted time, I'll schedule it for another time.
  • I will only multi-task if I see both tasks can really be done at the same time.  No more schooling while checking email.
  • When I find myself surfing my mental list, I'll stop myself, take a breath...and get back into the moment.
So I think the 2011 slogan is Giving the present of being present in 2011.   Or maybe it is Staying Present and Finishing what I start.....I'll keep working on the wording, but you get the gist.

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