North American society promotes the the virtues of multi-tasking. Tell me if you’ve experienced something like this. You’re having a visit with a friend. Whilst chatting, she checks her text messages, excuses herself to answer a call and focuses on the other conversations going on around you. You have a conversation but never really feel that you’re connecting. Studies show that working on two tasks simultaneously can be done but more than two and the quality of the work drops significantly.
In the corporate setting, employees who are able to participate in a conference call, work on a media presentation and schedule client follow-ups, in other words multi-task, are considered attractive by prospective employers. I used to practice multi-tasking as well. When Josée buzzed me at work, I would be typing an email or reviewing a file whilst speaking with her. I would usually catch most of our conversation but she knew I really wasn’t present. I think that is the key – BE PRESENT. Now, when she phones or Skype’s me, I drop what I am doing and focus on her call.
I’ve adopted (trying to!) a new old philosophy in a number of areas in my life: uni-tasking. I’m trying to finish one task before starting another; read one book before reading another (this is tough – I usually have at least 3 on the go!) and add new projects to my spreadsheet in order to prioritize them. I’m finding there is a simple joy in focusing on just one thing at a time and doing it as well as I can. My mind, usually processing over the speed limit in five directions at once, has calmed [at least a little]. I still am good at generating ideas and thinking up new and interesting projects but at least I can now just add them to my list whilst only working on one.
It’s a work in progress. How long does it take to change a habit? Oh well, I’ll work on it but right now I have to get back to work – I need to send an email, place a trade and call a client but not at the same time!