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Multi-tasking Madness

Anybody who’s worked in an office knows that managers love multi-taskers. The busy, constantly moving employee is often rewarded, and anybody who takes a moment to sit and think about something sometimes is suspect. 

Even though the thoughtful “tortoise” employee may be more truly productive, the busy “hare” employee gets the kudos, raises and promotions. Happily, as the research keeps coming in that multi-tasking is not effective and is often (as in the case of texting while driving) dangerous, our culture might just shift toward an appreciation of the mindful, highly conscientious individual. 

There is really no such thing as multi-tasking anyway, at least in terms of doing two or more things at once and doing them well. Have you ever tripped on a sidewalk crack while walking and talking? Have you ever missed a turn while driving because you were talking on your cell phone — even if you were using a hands-free device? And this is just the easy stuff. During surgery we can only hope that our doctor is not operating while flirting with the nurse and listening to Led Zeppelin.

The last time I gave a talk two women chatted through most of it, which was distracting to me and to the other members of the audience. A big part of being organized is being present — focusing on what is going on right in front of you. If the conversation you’re having is a higher priority than the lecture you’re attending, you need to go someplace and have the conversation. Along with focus, knowing your priorities is a big part of organization. What should you be doing at any given time? Only you can decide. 

Close your eyes and think about a time you spent in a library, maybe as a kid in the children’s section or as a student in a vast college library with lots of cool study nooks or as an adult reading the newspaper. Did you go crazy wishing you could have a soda and a sandwich in there? Were you bummed out because you couldn’t call your girlfriend to chat or your hair salon to make an appointment? Were you upset because you couldn’t blast your boom box while you browsed? Probably not. Most likely you enjoyed the structure, the quiet, the order and had a productive bit of time spent finding some books to read or doing some research.

Now, think about the last time you drove in your car. Was the music blaring? Were you talking on the phone or texting or refereeing kids in the back seat? Were you eating? Were you drinking a latte and did you spill it or burn your tongue? Were you putting on mascara at a stop light? How serene did that feel?

Try a week — or even one day of “uni-tasking” — doing one thing and one thing only at a time. It feels a little quiet and monkish at first as every action becomes more meditative and commands all of your attention. Even the simplest e-mail or conversation will take on some heft, and communication will vastly improve. 

Try the Stairmaster without Oprah, the Golf Channel or a magazine. Focus on the rhythm of the exercise to improve performance and prevent injury. To take it a step further, I’ve heard that it is even better to work out without music so that you can listen solely to your body. You could try it.

The evening meal is a whole different experience with the television turned off, or so I’ve been told. Unfortunately, this won’t be possible at my house during baseball season. Or football season. And then there’s March Madness and hockey….