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It's important to be silly, to be serious, to be strong, to be frail...for what is life if we only shared a mask?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Taking the Monkey out of Multi Tasking

I was reviewing a job description and after the write up covered all the work under the sun, it ended with “looking for a multi tasker and a self starter”. LOL! You are kidding me, right. That sounds like the latest touch tone SMART microwave oven. Yes, just add water and I will intuit how to cook this entire meal.
Unfortunately, multi tasking has become a primo underlined verb that everyone includes in their vocabulary. But peel back the layers of multi tasking, like that proverbial onion that Shrek loves, and you will find one distracted individual. And I am guilty. I multi task all the time. If I am driving, I am wondering what else can I do. Should I call the doctor and set up that appointment? Or I decide to take the conference call and contribute or keep it on mute so the background noise does not interfere with the call. Or another scenario here, I am at work and in another endless meeting and hoping to download all that information that folks are sharing. I see an instant message pop up wanting input on another task. So while I am participating in one meeting, I am also managing another request. Or I am eating lunch at my desk while working on a presentation and participating in a virtual meeting. I am ricocheting all over the place.
At home, if I am watching a movie with the girls, I either fold the clothes or try and find another task so I can save time. There you go…save time. And you wonder…are you saving time or just immersed in your own busyness to pay attention. I am busy ergo I am important. I matter.I have heard enough about focus. I have heard enough about paying attention. But that word “multi tasking” has crawled into my brain and now dictates the “efficient” use of my time. Like a persistent nudge, it whispers “hey just divide your attention. You can drive and talk. No big” and so on.But we don’t save time by multi tasking. Time cannot be saved. It is diluted. It is wasted when we don’t slow down. We lose time when we don’t focus on the task at hand. When you are on a call and engaged in one conversation, picking up the second call is unnecessary. When you are interacting with your children, responding to that email on your blackberry is losing precious face time. When you create long “to do” lists or “honey do’s” that create an impression of organization but increase the stress of things undone.
Research done by Rubinstein, Meyers and Evans shows that while multi tasking may seem more efficient, it might actually take more time. "Rule activation takes significant amounts of time, several tenths of a second -- which can add up when people switch back and forth repeatedly between tasks.” Meyers points out “a mere half second of time lost to task switching can mean the difference between life and death for a driver using a cell phone.” Researchers continue to find that multitasking decreases productivity, increases stress, and may cause physical discomforts such as stomachaches or headaches. I was at my daughter’s violin recital on Wednesday night and watched her single mindedly focus on her music.
Every child did the same. The result was a symphony that was inspiring. It is time to slow down. To focus. To pay attention. To listen. To be present. The mind is a monkey, swinging from scattered thoughts, driving priorities, paranoid, incessant and never still. It’s going to take some effort but I am going to let that phone ring and enjoy the scenery when I drive back home today.
Maybe I will sing instead!
“When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” -Zen proverb

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