Everyone I know has had a busy and event-
ful summer, myself included. From signing on with multiple new clients to starting a new full-time position, I’ve been running at a feverish pace lately. And it’s times like these when I see my knack for multitasking excel and flounder.
Like many of us, multitasking has become a necessity of life for me. If I didn’t begin set-
ting one plan in motion while another was still developing in someone else’s inbox, I wouldn’t be a very productive freelancer. I can’t help but feel a sense of pride when I see multiple projects come together at just the right time, like a Vaudevillian plate spinner with panache and flair.
But then there are times when multitasking leaves me feeling overwhelmed. Suddenly, the life of a plate spinner becomes so foreboding you begin to live in constant fear that if one falls and shatters, your concentration will be broken and all plates will come tumbling down.
I know some of us don’t have the luxury to come full stop on all the things that make our lives hectic. We check our e-mail during our morning commute, call the bank, post office and auto shop on our lunch hour, and write proposals and blog posts while sitting in a doctor’s waiting room.
We convince ourselves that we’re using our time efficiently. Yet we can’t help but feel the nagging sensation that if we stop all the multitasking, we’ll drown in a sea of to-do lists. The dishes won’t get cleaned, the invoices won’t be sent and that mound of filing on our desk will cause an imminent collapse.
This lingering sense of catastrophe on the edge of our psyche takes its toll and it makes us more weary the longer we insist on not slowing down. Our focus dulls and our confidence sinks. We start to wonder if we’re cut out for this hurly-burly world of work, family, eating, sleeping and sanity.
And for some of us, once we begin multitasking from sun up to sun down, it becomes near impossible to turn it off. So that’s why I’m pledging to put an end to my multitasking obsession for one week.
That’s right. You know how some people go on a “digital vacation” and force themselves to turn off the computer, TV, Playstation and smartphone? Well, I’m going to go on a multitasking vacation. Starting August 1, 2011, I pledge to do only one thing at a time for a solid 7 days straight.
Sounds easy, but you don’t know how obsessive my obsessions get. The first three days may conjure images of the creepy detoxing scene in Trainspotting. Nevertheless, I’m ready to dive in.
From August 1st to August 7th, I will challenge myself to not:
1. Check my e-mail, Twitter or Google+ account while waiting at stoplights in traffic jams.
2. Have more than 3 browser tabs open at one time.
3. Have browser tabs open related to more than one task/project/topic at a time.
4. Save Tweets to Favorites without reading them in hopes that I will get back to them at a later date. If I don’t have time to follow the link and read the information now, it will go unread.
5. Keep my computer on while reading printed research material.
6. Check any social networks or e-mail accounts within 30 minutes of turning out the lights before bed.
7. Read more than one book at a time.
8. Load the dishwasher while cooking dinner on the stove at the same time.
9. Check my RSS feed while waiting in line at any store or government facility (post office, grocery store, boutique, etc.)
Having said that, I want to be fair and not set the bar too high. I’m giving myself permission to do the following during this experiment:
1. Take calls from clients during my breaks at work.
2. Read a book within 30 minutes of turning out the lights before bed.
3. Wash dishes, fold laundry or style my hair while watching TV or movies.
Hey, I have to be realistic here people. A woman’s gotta eat.
I know this experiment seems simple and a week isn’t that long, but I’ve found that those 9 habits, when practiced on a daily basis, are seriously beginning to affect my level of concentration. And anything noticeably affecting my concentration now has probably been disrupting it for a long time on subconscious level.
Who knows? If all goes well, maybe one week will turn into two, three or more.
Ultimately, what I hope to get from this pledge will be a greater sense of calm and control over my life (if for only one week), a heightened sense of focus and dedication, and the realization that tackling one activity at a time is not an exercise in inefficiency. I believe that multitasking has its place in our lives, but it’s not meant to rule our lives. And when living the life of a creative professional, multitasking can do wonders for your business, but also do considerable harm to your creativity.
Do you feel multitasking is hurting your productivity more than helping it?
Give an example of when you turn on and off the multitasking machine.