We have all encountered that person who takes pride in his or her ability to “multitask.” But the question of one’s efficiency (and well-being) remains exactly that – a question. What that person probably doesn’t realize is that they are not actually doing multiple tasks at once. What we have come to understand as “multitasking” – checking email during a conference call while periodically switching windows to organize your tax spreadsheets in an adjacent portion of your screen – is better described as “task-switching.”
Believe it or not, recent research shows that so-called “multitasking” not only hinders performance, but that it also leads to increased stress. In short, we are much better off – both in terms of work-quality and our quality-of-life – when we cultivate the art of paying attention and offer genuine care and dedication to a given task.
When we flex our focus-muscles and bring our energy to a given project, we find that our minds may be reaching in a million directions, considering all of the possible ideas, strategies, perspectives, conversations, collaborations, and more, that might serve the project in question. This is very different than multitasking. This is the practice of nurturing our complexity as human beings – each with myriad work experiences, personal experiences, relationships, ideas, emotions and so forth – and finding harmony, unity, in our inherent diversity.
When you set out to begin a project, try making a list of all of your preliminary ideas and strategies. In an adjacent column, make a list of all of the people, companies and organizations with whom/which you are familiar, as potential contributors to your project. Maybe you know the executive director of a non-profit who could provide you with informal advice; or maybe this executive director might be interested in being involved more formally. While certainly unspecific, these suggestions are simply meant to point out that a given task can still be enlivened by exploring multiple approaches, by bringing all of your remarkable skills and sensibilities to the table at a given moment.
In her new book Real Happiness at Work, Sharon Salzberg aptly points out that the word “integrity” comes from the Latin word for whole or complete. She writes, “Integrity in the context of work means preserving a sense of wholeness…on the job.” It’s no wonder, then, that task-switching (AKA “multitasking”) often makes us feel frustrated, disappointed in ourselves, incomplete, and often quite unhappy. That is why it is productive (once again, both for the sake of your work itself and for your psychological health) to find a sense of wholeness or completeness by recognizing and celebrating your many facets. Let’s reconsider once again what Walt Whitman once wrote: “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself…I contain multitudes.”