Move over multitasking; singletasking finally wins out

My sweet friend was more gracious than I deserved. She shrugged it off and said not to worry about it.

I had basically insulted her in a group message on Facebook; how could I not worry about it? It wasn’t intentional and I certainly didn’t mean it. I was trying to do too many things at the same time, and thus a reply to a message came out wrong.

The same thing happened during an in-person meeting recently. I was attempting to deal with a major organizational situation while rushing through the lunch meeting and making needed announcements. My friend and co-worker asked a simple question and the phrasing of my answer came out all wrong. It wasn’t what I meant at all, and my dear friend assured me she knew what I had intended to say. But I was mortified that my words could have been extremely hurtful.

And there was the time I misread an email, leading me in the wrong direction with an assignment. It cost myself and others many hours of unnecessary work all because I didn’t read the information carefully.

Again a mistake that happened while multitasking — doing the thing that I have taken such pride in since I was a teenager. I’ve always been able to handle multiple tasks at the same time, juggling lots of activities and making consistent progress on all of them.

In high school, I cleaned my room while talking on the phone. In college, I studied while watching friends play baseball. While on the missions field, I had friends help me with work projects so we could have “hang out” time without me having to lose momentum on the projects. And when a guy asked me out on a date, sometimes I would invite everyone else along who had mentioned doing something fun that particular week. That way I could spend time with everyone but do it all at the same time (true story that my husband of nearly 17 years loves to tell on me — it happened on our first date).

Today I can answer email on my computer while talking to someone on my landline and texting someone else on my cellphone. That’s right, I can carry on three conversations at the same time. Of course, you see where it has gotten me a few times!

I have been pretty creative with multitasking through the years, but I’m not sure that has always been a good thing. A recent conversation with my family ended with them all agreeing that I am not always fully present while sitting in front of them. They mentioned how I check my phone constantly for emails and texts. I may attend my nephews’ birthday parties and basketball games, but am I putting my full attention on them and the day’s activities or am I distracted by other things I’m working on at the same time?

My sister-in-law, Amanda, mentioned a new trend she likes where a group of friends or family members meeting for dinner all put their phones in the middle of the table when they arrive at the restaurant. The deal is that no one is to touch their phone during the outing. The first person to give in and check his or her phone has to pay for everyone’s dinner.

Accountability and consequences for breaking the rule — I like it. It is probably something I need.

Visualize an entertainer on stage spinning plates on top of poles attempting to keep them balanced. He adds another, then another, then another. He always seems to stop adding plates at some point recognizing his limit. We all clap in affirmation. Impressive indeed.

But when I think about it in more detail, I realize the fact that he knows his limits is what allows him to keep the plates spinning. I don’t always know my limits and end up adding one plate too many. You can probably hear the plates shattering now.

I also realized that even though the entertainer manages to keep the plates spinning, he can never take his eyes off the plates nor stop tending to them. If he turns his attention anywhere else … crash.

Instead of attempting to spin all the plates at once, it is better to take one plate out at a time, do whatever needs to be done, put it back in a safe place and pull out another plate and continue on in this pattern. Yes I know. All the males out there are rolling their eyes and thinking, “Well, duh! We’ve always known this. What took you so long to figure it out?”

And I guess in general men do have more of a handle on this than many women.

But at the same time I’m not describing being one-track minded to the point where you have to complete the entire project in front of you before you can even begin to think of another project or assignment. There does have to be an ability to ebb and flow between projects, assignments, relationships, work, home, church, etc.

Instead of multitasking — where we work on several tasks at the same time — we should manage our tasks — where we organize our tasks, prioritize them appropriately and focus on the one at hand at the moment — while also making the best use of all of our time.

My editor, Bob Terry, describes it as redeeming the time. If we are organized and prepare appropriately, then we are always ready to work on what’s next and avoid wasting any segments of time.

I may always face the temptation to return to multitasking when life gets overwhelming, but the newfound freedom I’ve found in not multitasking is certainly addictive.

Because I can actually look away from the spinning plates now, I can see the big picture much more clearly (Matt. 22:37–40). The clarity forces me to think carefully before I agree to take on a new project (Col. 3:23). I can better judge the time I have and actually see the boundaries.

And think about the change a newfound ability to focus will have on my spiritual disciplines (Ps. 46:10). God is teaching me so much. I’m excited to discover what’s next.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

2 thoughts on “Move over multitasking; singletasking finally wins out

  1. Pingback: Redeeming the time | rashionalthoughts

  2. Pingback: Blitzing my way to freedom | rashionalthoughts

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