The Multitask Myth – Velvet Skill #6

A couple months ago I read a book called “The Velvet Rage – Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man’s World”, by Alan Downs. It was one of those “life changers” for me.

Toward the end of the book, Dr. Downs has a chapter of various “Skills for Leading an Authentic Life”, which are not necessarily “gay life skills”, so anyone of any orientation could/should benefit from looking at these with me, unless you’ve already got it all figured out, in which case, “Well done, you!” For myself and the rest of us, I’m going to take one “skill” a day and blog about it. Some may be brief, some may be more protracted, who knows?

Here is today’s:

One thing, one person, one conversation in the moment. 

 Make it your goal to do only one thing in each moment. 

The first reason to develop this skill is one of pure time management. The idea that we can get more done more quickly by working on multiple things at once is a myth and has been shown through research.

You THINK you are getting more done, because you have so much going on at once, but in fact:

  • it will take you longer to get all of the tasks done by “multi-tasking” than if you’d done each task individually, back-to-back
  • you will have more errors
  • your overall work will be of lower quality

So why do we do multitask? I have some theories about myself, and I suspect many will apply to others as well:

  • It makes me feel “busier”, and I have been trained to believe that “busy” = worthy, useful, valuable, loveable.
  • I truly believe I AM BEING MORE EFFICIENT AND GETTING MORE THINGS DONE MORE QUICKLY, in spite of research proving otherwise (see “Stupid is as Stupid Does – Velvet Skill #5“). Some of us are ridiculously stubborn, although I suppose I should only speak for myself here…
  • Doing one thing at a time requires me to prioritize, which means someone’s task (or SOMEONE) is going to be “more important” FIRST, which means I fear upsetting, alienating, and/or hurting the feelings of the person who gets “put on the back burner”. Because my lifelong goal has always been “keep everyone happy”, I try to keep everyone happy ALL AT THE SAME TIME. Have I mentioned this is frustrating and exhausting? Yeah, I did. It truly is. And the irony is, because multitasking keeps you from being fully present for ANY of the tasks or people at hand, you are probably inadvertently causing them to feel unimportant anyway.

Which brings me to WHY we should learn this skill and stop multitasking – why we should do ONE thing in each moment:

  • Presence, presence, presence. Being fully present in the moment is the best gift you can give a person or a project. Even the dimmest bulbs out there can tell when you aren’t being present for them, so DON’T DO IT. Here’s an idea: be honest. “I have a couple other things I need to wrap up first and want to give them my full attention. Can we connect later so I can give you the gift of my full attention?” Golden words. (nota bene: if they have a problem with waiting for your full presence until you finish other tasks, that’s on THEM, not you. Sounds selfish, but it’s true).
    • Sidebar – if you don’t know what “nota bene” is, Google it. The best advice I ever got from a high school teacher was “never let an unfamiliar word or phrase go by”.
  • HIgher quality EVERYTHING. Higher quality conversations, which lead to higher quality relationships, which lead to a better YOU.
  • De-escalation of stress and anxiety.
  • This skill is absolutely essential if we are to experience the emotion of joy. Of all the emotions, joy is the one that requires that you be fully present in the moment. When you aren’t fully present, you can’t feel joy.

I realize this is less “blog” than others I’ve done, but the bullet format seemed right for today.

You are going to be surprised (unless you are already a pro at this) at how difficult this skill is. Apart from those of us who have pre-programmed performance orientation, society itself keeps telling us “busyness” and “doing many things at once” show value.

And here is where it gets tricky. Society is WRONG.

You are a better person, employee, friend, spouse, parent, lover, when you are FULLY PRESENT for EACH activity, EACH conversation, EACH person. So just know you will be fighting against the current by adopting this skill. Society might initially think you are “lazy” and that they (or their demands of you) are “unimportant” or “less important” than others. Discipline yourself. In the end, if you do this right, the people who matter will see you are a better person for doing it.

And you’ll be healthier. And happier. And have better relationships. And get more done.

What’s not to love?


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