Lisa Q. Mathews

Going for the Juggler: The Art of Multitasking

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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?

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Who has helpful multitasking pointers–or crushing tales of defeat–to share in the comments?

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Congratulations to MBradeen, the lucky winner of MACRAME MURDER by last week’s guest Chick, Mollie Cox Bryan!!! 

17 thoughts on “Going for the Juggler: The Art of Multitasking

  1. When I was a project manager, I attended a whole class on how multi-tasking really decreases productivity for a variety of reasons. So now I try to focus on a single task for whatever period of time. In this hour I’m going to do that. Today, I need to accomplish this. It works. I hope.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. When you hit menopause, multi-tasking flies right out the window. So I learned to do what is in front of me and keep lists and if something goes awry, say forgetting to pick up the kid or not feeding the dog, someone will let you know soon enough. It does come back, after a few years.

    I have list, pile really, in my home office for writerly stuff with stickies running down one side of the monitor for imminent deadlines. I have a list in the kitchen for stuff that needs to get bought or done when I’m out. That list goes into the briefcase when I walk out the door. In my briefcase, there is a copy of the next day’s calendar so I know if I have to wear a suit or when I need to be at work or if I need to bring my own lunch. At the office, another pile and the ever-so-holy calendar where I “tickle” all my appearances, deadlines and to-dos.

    And I programmed my phone to tell me when to leave the office to go pick up the kid.

    Done.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Ooo, sticky notes!! Yaahh! So convenient and fun–love to crumple them up and toss toward the trash when the task is done. (My dog likes them too.)I’m going to try piles in appropriate places. Very clever.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post! My husband insists there’s no such thing as multi-tasking, mainly because he can’t do it. But now it appears he’s right. Although I’ll NEVER let him know that, of course.

    I’m a list maker from way back when. No joke, the girls who moved into my college apartment after I graduated said they were still find lists I made six months after I moved out. So clearly throwing out trash wasn’t on any of them.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Multi-tasking? Ha! I have enough trouble single-tasking. I’m too addled to even make coffee until I’ve had coffee. If I have to be up kind of early, I make the coffee the night before! True story.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve concluded a long time ago that multitasking isn’t a real thing. Yes, I could switch back and forth between tasks faster, but if I am trying to do more than one thing at a time, I don’t give either my entire focus.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I love a good to-do list, but I’m too easily distracted to multi-task! You know how people talk about going into a room and not remembering why they went into it? I’m like that with the ENTIRE INTERNET!

    Liked by 3 people

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