Or, the death of the multi-tasking myth.
I’ve finally admitted that I’m no longer able to multitask with any real productivity.
I used to be able to do three or four things at once. And while I certainly wasn’t doing any of them with my full attention, I was at least able to do them well. I could listen to my son talk without missing a word while writing and flipping back and forth to Twitter and a chat window or two.
Since my hysterectomy last summer, my ability to multitask has left me high and dry. Now, if my son walks up and starts talking to me, I type as much as a full sentence before we both realize I haven’t heard a word he’s said. If I’m writing, I am writing. That is all. If I’m listening to music with words, I can just barely remain coherent enough to write – if it’s music I’m familiar with or if it’s non-English. Otherwise, I find that I’m either too intently listening to write or I occasionally write a word I heard instead of a word that makes any sense. (Just yesterday, I was writing my daily practice while listening to P!nk and found “fun house” where I most certainly did not intend it. Subliminal writing!)
This has caused me great frustration.
I identify as a multitasker. I’ve spent several years, in fact, defending my ability to multitask against hordes of people who said it’s not possible. I railed against the emerging talk of single-tasking. I proved again and again that I was able to write and talk and chat and tweet without missing a beat. It was almost a party trick.
Until I started to realize I couldn’t do it anymore. And then it became a source of stubborn irritation. I’d be writing and the boy would come up and just start talking (that was the previous way of things, after all), and I’d just keep writing in oblivion until he’d say, “Umm… Mommy?” whereupon I would look up, deer-in-headlights, and we’d both sigh this huge heaving sigh – him because he was going to have to repeat himself and me because I am supposed to be able to listen and keep writing dammit!
Pace can’t multitask. She’s so not able to multitask, she can’t even think more than one thing at a time. I used to get annoyed at her for not being able to carry groceries while opening the door, because I could carry groceries, open the door, herd the kid inside, all while talking on my phone – and without dropping anything. (I’ve heard there’s a book about this.)
Now, I’m lucky if I can carry groceries and open the door. Suddenly, my hands are too full to manage – and suddenly, I have epic compassion for Pace.
And yes, I’ve apologized profusely to her.
The truth is, multitasking is an illusion. Though I’ve spent my life believing I could do it, really what I was good at was task-switching. I was able to go from one task to another and back, seamlessly. I wasn’t listening while writing, I was able to listen in the pauses between words. I can’t write on my book and write a tweet at the same time – I’ve got one keyboard, one set of fingers. But I could write a sentence, then write a tweet, then write the next sentence without losing flow.
Now, when I switch tasks, I blow my flow to bits. It takes me upwards of several seconds to get back into what I was doing before I switched.
This has called for a reworking of how I work. And, more than that, a reworking of how I see myself. It’s called for a lot of compassion. It’s created a lot of frustration in myself at myself. It’s frustrated my kid and my Pace as they get used to the way things now are.
But I’m also finding that it’s creating far better work. Shutting down Firefox and TweetDeck and silencing my phone while I’m writing is forcing me to focus entirely on what I’m writing. It’s moving my energy into alignment with my priorities. It’s moving my focus into alignment with my energy. I’m less scattered. I’m less forgetful. I’m less prone to writer’s block.
I’m more committed to writing than ever before. Unexpected side-effect for the win! I’ve found that, when I shut everything and just write, I delve deeper into my writing and my words come more easily and more often – and they please me with more regularity. In fact, I wrote The Six Steps to World-Changing Writing focused and single-tasked, and it’s some of my best work. (If I do say so myself. And I do.)
Multitasking felt easier. It was easy to hide in my scatter-brained ways, to pretend I was working when really I wasn’t, to look – and feel – busy.
But single-tasking is far more productive. It’s far better for my writing – and for me, in general. I find peace in doing one simple thing at a time.
One thing at a time, it turns out, is a pretty good way to face the world.