Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Multi-tasking - Hah! I Knew It.

Vindicated! I have never been a fan of multi-tasking - have been known to say it means doing several things poorly at the same time - and now I'm proved right. A recent medical study shows that when a woman does two different tasks simultaneously, the brain divides the focus between the right and left brain equally. Throw in a third task and all three activities become "scattered" between the two lobes and no task is performed to maximum capacity or with efficiency.

I cannot tell you how many times I've been irritated in work situations to find co-workers and employees doing several things at once - talking on the phone whilst writing an email or filling out a form - even something as relatively low on brain power as talking and filing nails at the same time irks me. Why? because I've seen far too many sloppy results, embarrassing typos, failure to complete a sentence. One former employee of mine who insisted she could "multi-task" botched an entire crucial report form causing a delay in ordering parts that shut us down for a week. For my own part I've sent out more than a couple of hastily tapped e mails whilst doing something else and lived to regret the day.

I hate taking my life in my hands on the road as other drivers brush hair, manipulate a lipstick, chat on the phone or , god help us, send text messages all while driving. I was rear-ended last summer by a woman who had phone squeezed between shoulder and ear, and coffee cup in hand whilst she drove - into me as it happens.

I'm not saying that we can't stir the porridge at the same time as scanning the kids homework, or chop an onion ( although doing more than one thing at a time with a sharp object to hand has its own set of hazards) while listening to the radio but face it, ladies - the more we attempt to cram into a minute, the less effective we are.

An adage I grew up with was "If something is worth doing, it's worth doing properly." How correct that proves to be and how we should take it to heart in a world gone ballistic on gadgets - and expectations of women. Give yourself a break! Come on. Just this weekend I watched a father berating his son at the little league baseball game. While exhorting the kid the concentrate on the game, the dad answered his phone, picked up a fly-ball, yelled out a hi to another parent and paid for his soda . Way to go , I thought to myself. Walk the talk guy if you want the kid to learn anything. If you are going to talk to a teenager about focusing on the task at hand - set the example by doing the same Sit down with him or her, make the talk the center point - not an adjunct to cooking dinner, driving, cleaning the kitchen counter.

If you need to have the "we never talk anymore" conversation with a spouse think why before you open your mouth. Could it be because talking comes in second to sorting laundry, paying the bills, pruning the roses.

The older I get the more convinced I become that the whole multi-tasking myth was a plot to keep us scurrying like mice and prevent us from taking any quality time for those around us. I liked the era when my mother sat on the front porch and shelled peas while watching my brothers and I play and chatted about nothing of consequence with the neighbors - that's the only multi-tasking I'll accept as having any value.

For a long time now I have resolutely refused to buy into the multi-tasking world view. I refuse to juggle my focus and am blunt in saying "not now, I'm already occupied". I don't answer the phone if I'm face to face with someone. I don't keep my phone on in the grocery store or restaurant. I don't keep my computer open and troll for incoming e mail while in conversation. Maybe that attitude puts me out of sync with this fast paced world of our but it keeps me in sync with myself. And to prove how resolute I am about not multi-tasking, I was so focused on writing this that I let my morning tea go cold!

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