The Myth of Multitasking

Multitasking, or the act of performing two or more tasks at the same time, has become a virtue in our modern life. Practically every resume I review (and I review a LOT of resumes) lists the applicant’s ability to multitask as one of their personal skills. But how big a virtue is it to split your attention and energy between multiple tasks?
I really can’t speak for other hiring executives, but when I see that word, it rings alarm bells in my head. I am especially skeptical when I see “Attention to detail” and “Ability to multitask” in the same skill set. To me they’re mutually exclusive.
Having said that, I will admit that I have a perpetually running “To Do” list on my desk. I always have looming deadlines and usually two or more projects or deliverables due at or around the same time. But, I’ve found that if I’m actively working on more than one of those tasks at the same time, then the quality of both products suffers.
I also used to have to regularly return projects to staff who are multitaskers with comments, questions and corrections (and yes, I’m one of those annoying people who use red pens); and frequently the quantity of my ink equals or outweighs that on their original submission. I’d usually include a ‘yellow sticky’ with “Please clear your desk; make the indicated edits and then reevaluate the entire submission when you can actually devote your time to this.” Notice I used the past tense above; that’s because most of my staff have gotten the message that half measures usually result in their having to do double work.
We’re all busy people with multiple items competing for our time and attention; however, I think you’ll find that splitting your energies between multiple tasks usually result in outcomes that are ‘good enough.’ Do you really want your life to be…’good enough?’
James Shelley, recently wrote an essay on one of my favorite Zen parables, “Washing the Bowl.” Here’s what James has to offer on that idea:
Thích Nhất Hạnh (b. 1926), the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teaches that when you are washing the dishes, the only thing you should be thinking about is washing the dishes. It is a “wondrous reality” he says, to be standing before a sink, washing a bowl, in full consciousness of the moment. Why should the conscious experience of washing dishes be any more mundane or any less miraculous than any other moment of existence?
Nhất Hạnh teaches that you can wash your bowl with the objective of having a clean bowl, or you can wash your bowl with the objective of washing the bowl. If you are only concerned with the end project — a clean bowl — then what becomes of the time you spent washing it? The time seems to disappear, as if a snippet of your life was not even really lived. On the other hand, if your mind, body, and sense of presence are honed in on the washing itself, every part of you comes alive to the vibrancy and sensation of the moment. Therefore, instructs Nhất Hạnh, the most important thing to think about while washing the bowl is washing the bowl.
Our tendency to mentally disengage from our tasks means that we are forever living in the future. We rush through the ordeal of washing the dishes because we are in a hurry to sit down and drink our coffee. But while we drink our coffee, our mind again races ahead to the next item on our agenda. Just as we do not wash dishes in order to wash dishes, neither do we drink coffee in order to drink coffee. Whatever we are doing, it seems, becomes a task we practically ignore in order to think about the next task.
Imagine, then, washing the dishes with the express and sole ambition of appreciating the activity itself. Feel the soap suds, water temperature, chinaware, and vapor. Imagine doing nothing except enjoying the coffee, with the singular intent of noting every sensation of the cup and drink.
You have 1440 minutes to live today. You will probably sleep for about 480 of them. How many of the remaining 960 minutes do you consider a nuisance? How many minutes are left to live for the sake of the minutes themselves?
Here’s hoping you have an intentionally great and mindful day.

By | 2015-02-17T06:45:05-05:00 February 17th, 2015|Counseling, Counseling/Therapy, Therapy|0 Comments

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