Recently, I had to face a hard, highly inconvenient truth: I am not a multitasker. In fact, I’m not the best single-tasker, either. Believe me, I try. But the time has come to admit that I may never be like those perfect people out there who color-code their zillions of to-do lists and zip through them while I’m stuck in the drive-thru lane at Dunkin Donuts. Do I really, really hate these overachievers? Of course I do.
Okay, I lied. I don’t hate them, because many are good friends of mine. They’re always sympathetic and do a really good job of hiding their pity. Whenever I whine or beg them for advice–usually when I’m under some desperate deadline–they try their best to help me mend my scattered ways. “You just need to focus,” they tell me. “You can do it. Block everything else out. It’s not that hard. Really.”
I’m always psyched up after these cheerleading sessions. I have the best of intentions. But usually, I’m back to ground zero before it’s time for that second iced tea. That’s why, after my last self-imposed-deadline debacle, I vowed I’d become a champion multitasker. After all, everyone is busy these days, right? People have jobs and kids and parents and pets to take care of. They cook and clean their houses and volunteer and hit the gym. And somehow, they manage to get those fingers flying on the keyboard and get their manuscripts in on time. Do I qualify for special dispensation? Sadly, I think not.
I decided to waste/spend a bit of time researching how exactly I might become a model of efficiency. I was delighted to find there were plenty of helpful articles out there. But guess what? Technically, there is no such thing as true multitasking. The brain can only handle one task at a time. Some people even claim that our minds can actually explode (okay, deteriorate) over time from cognitive fragmentation overload.
Of course, that’s not the full story. There are ways to work around that single-task thing. You can work on making your brain work faster in switching between tasks. And if you pair a challenging task (say, writing a book) with a less-difficult one (listening to music), it can work out okay for some people. (Side note: Agatha Christie famously claimed she did her best book plotting while doing the dishes.) Oh, and shocker: creating to-do lists, color-coded or otherwise, is extremely useful.
The most important thing I took away from my “research”–and, okay, real-life experience–is that Stress is Bad. If you’re frozen and frazzled with worry about getting everything done at once, your productivity decreases. Breaks are necessary, and so is pausing briefly to set your intention for each new task. It’s good to get up and move around, and chances are excellent you may have a solution for a problem (say, a pesky plot point) when you return, because you’ll probably be approaching it from a different angle. Even nutrition and hydration are important (I’m including snacks and additional iced teas in here).
So I may never be a multitasking queen, but I guess I’ll keep trying. Maybe I’ve just been a little too hard on myself all this time. Baby steps, right?
Who has helpful multitasking pointers–or crushing tales of defeat–to share in the comments?
Congratulations to MBradeen, the lucky winner of MACRAME MURDER by last week’s guest Chick, Mollie Cox Bryan!!!