Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Multi-tasking Blues

I sat down this morning at my desk. It was early and everyone else was still asleep. This was the perfect moment to enjoy some quality uninterrupted time. I decided to write in my journal. There I sat with my journal on my lap and my email on the computer screen. I'd write a couple of sentences and then check my email. I was doing it again. I was multi-tasking. I have a problem.

Multi-tasking has become the sub-prime of my life. Just as economists and journalists connected the sub-prime debacle to every conceivable societal ill, I can trace the major problems in my life to multi-tasking. I'm suddenly feeling the desire to stand up in front of a group of people, introduce myself, publicly declare myself a multi-tasker and receive a round of applause and hugs for making this valiant admission.

How did mult-tasking become such and insidious part of my life? I don't recall a light-bulb coming on as I realized I could do several tasks at the same time. And I wish I could blame motherhood but the truth is I've been doing it since I was a young child. I'd play with my toys while watching Sesame Street or the news (yes, you read that correctly, I was a news-hound at an early age). I'd watch television and read a book. In high school, I could work on homework while holding a conversation. Instead of anyone taking me aside to warn me from this habit, I was praised.

In my work-life, I was the go-to-girl. If you needed something done, I'd do it. When I'd start a job the description of responsibilities was pretty cut-and-dry- answer the phones, type letters, and file. By the time I left a position that job description stretched to several pages. I was proud of the fact that often they would need to find two people to do the job I handled on my own. And I didn't stop this once I became a stay-at-home mother. If anything, it escalated. I write in the bathroom while my little guy is in the tub. I stop when the splashing gets dangerously close to my precious lap-top. Is the writing any good? Probably not. How could it be when I'm sitting on a bathroom floor typing away while singing the alphabet song and telling my child not to throw things out of the tub.

I could say I'll stop but that would be ignoring the fact that I'm an addict. I crave this busyness the way an addict craves their next hit. And just like an addict, the behavior is destructive. Scientists have done imaging scans of the brain and discovered that muli-tasking lowers our cognitive ability, it also leads to the increased release of stress hormones, it takes more energy (no wonder I'm always so tired) and it just generally dumbs us down. Armed with these facts, you'd think I'd quit cold turkey but I have a feeling it's not going to be so easy.

I'm imagining a support group for former multi-taskers. We'd be sitting around a circle. Some people would find themselves surreptitiously fingering their cell phones or blackberries, their legs shaking from the effort of controlling the urge to check their messages. Others might consider getting a cup of coffee and wonder whether this would constitute multi-tasking and so they'd stay in their seats gazing longingly at the coffee machine. We'd clap enthusiastically as Yvonne declared that she drove to the supermarket without listening to the radio, talking on her cell phone, eating or putting on her make-up. Of course, I'd be busy writing down some idea I got for a story and wondering what I should make for dinner joining in on the clapping late when I realized that Yvonne had stopped talking.

At least I can proudly admit to only writing this entry despite the fact that my email message is flashing. I'll just have to take it one day at time. Stay-tuned as I become a single-tasker. Hey, there's a great t-shirt here, "Single-Tasker and proud of it!"

Are you a multi-tasker too? Is it sucking the joy out of your life? Come join me as we collectively slay the beast.

1 comment:

Kate said...

I would happily join your support group. It is so hard to stop multitasking after being praised for it for so long. Like you, I was the "chaos tamer" back when I worked outside the home and my role in the home is pretty much the same. I've been working really hard this year to set aside one day--Friday, my writing day--to do no multitasking. I'm not allowed to flip back and forth between email and novel outline, no cleaning at all is allowed and I plan to feed the family something dull and fast like spaghetti and sauce from a jar that night so no prep work is required during the day. It's hard, but I'm hoping with practice that I'll be able to extend my periods of uni-tasking to more of my life than this one day.