No, this article is not about getting a date for Friday night. It IS about
making a case against one of the greatest time-management
techniques of our time. A while back, I heard on the radio (and you
know that, what they say on the radio, must be true...) that MRI
scans of people during their multi-tasking are actually not too much
more active than for people doing one task at a time. What this
means is that our effectiveness for each task may go down considerably.
If you are in a relationship, or have parents, you have probably seen
this dynamics of multi-tasking at home. (I will choose to be gender-
biased, so forgive me.) Imagine a wife and a husband at night. He is
sitting in front of the TV. He has the sports section of a newspaper
spread out in front of him, and a bottle of beer in his hand. She
comes over to the sofa, sits down, sighs, and starts to talk about
the troubles of her day. He makes acknowledging sounds once in
a while, but never really lifts his head from the paper in front of him.
She keeps talking for a while and then comes the silence that
husbands fear the most, followed by "Honey, you're not listening
to me, are you?" (Sometimes, the "honey" part may be missing
from this question.) He looks up from his newspaper. His eyes get
rather big for a moment as he stares at her. "Of course, I was listening!"
I'm sure you can fill in the rest of this predictable conversation
from here. She says...? "Yeah, really? What did I say?" Knowing
that this is a test he CAN pass, he repeats the last sentence.
Word for word. At this point, she may give up, frustrated that
she couldn't catch him, although her intuition tells her (correctly)
that he has no clue what she had just been talking about for
the last hour. If she doesn't give up, she may sweetly look at
him and ask, "oh, so what do you think about all of it?"
Open-ended questions are the traps that cannot be answered
as easily, so good chances are that he will be skewered for not
paying attention. The MRI activity may have gotten a little more
active right after the first question, but in any case, we are able
to process only superficial levels of information when we
multi-task. The poor husband gets caught every time. An
argument ensues every time. Ah. The predictability of effective communication.
The husband was probably proud of his ability to multi-task.
I was also proud of this ability to do a few things at the same
time. Until recently. As a true woman, I could drive, put on
my mascara, hold a cell phone, talk, watch traffic, maneuver
from one lane to the next, dial into my voicemail, write down
phone numbers from my messages, and listen to a captivating
self-help audiotape in the car stereo. So, of course, I own a
headset telephone. After single-handedly supporting my
chiropractor's practice from neck kinks after doing the
"telephone between shoulder and head" routine, a headset
keeps my neck healthy and it's posssible to walk around and
get all sorts of apparently mindless things done. Well, no more.
Recently, I had been right in the middle of waging yet another
war and power struggle with my computer. For one reason or
another, one of my computer programs had gone completely
berserk. If I didn't need to use the program right there and
then, I might marvel at its creative ingenuity as it did some
amazing maneuvers. Unfortunately, the computer's cooperation
was rather crucial at the moment so, rather chaotically by then,
I kept trying to root out the current gremlins that took hold of
my computer. This was when my boyfriend called.
To be clear, I love to hear from him. At that point, however,
any phone call felt like a serious distraction from figuring out
this computer mess. So, (remember, he can't see what I'm
doing, right?) I put on my headset and started to have a
conversation, while my eyes were glued to the computer
screen. Despite my doing such a fabulous multi-tasking job,
it took him less than 20 seconds to ask me if I would prefer
him to call back later. That question jolted me to reality and
I considered what next. If I say that my relationship is an
important priority, here was the opportunity to show my true
colors. My brain could probably use a shift in focus as well,
I thought. Instead of defending myself with some "er, I wasn't
doing anything else" excuse, I sat down, closed my eyes
and gave my full attention to the phone call. It actually took
a few minutes for the stress activity in my mind to quiet down,
but when it did, the results were quite astounding. Not only
did this turn out to be one of the closer connections we both
felt, the conversation left me refreshed and completely de-stressed.
After finishing the call, I was able to go back to the computer
and I won the anti-gremlin campaign within minutes. If I had
continued to multi-task, my conversation would have been
empty, and my stress level would have only continued to
rise as my efforts would have continued to be chaotic. My
boyfriend, even if he couldn't tell that I was doing something
else, would have felt I was distant and not too interested in
talking to him. That, like in the unfortunately-so-typical
marriage example above, can never be good for happy relationships with anyone.
Maybe, because it was such a transformation in energy and
focus, did it teach me to really be there for just one thing at a
time. My hope is that, if you can relate to this multi-tasking
culprit in your own life, consider slowing your life down just
one bit and be present for one thing. One step at a time.
Finish the first step before starting the next one. When with
one person, give that person your full attention - and you will
watch your relationships improve dramatically. When dealing
with a task, deal with that task only. You may be surprised
with how much, and how quickly, can be accomplished with single-tasking focus!
"The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond
them, to the impossible."
Arthur C. Clarke
"The brain is a wonderful organ. It starts working the moment you get up
in the morning, and does not stop until you get into the office."
"Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark.
You know what you are doing, but nobody else does."
Stuart Henderson Britt
"Bravery is being the only person who knows you're afraid."
Franklin P. Jones