Tuesday, March 10, 2009


I dislike the term "multitask". It implies that accomplishing one task alone is insufficient somehow; that you are better, faster, and more productive if you can juggle several tasks at once. Actually, if you think of multitasking in juggler's terms, it probably takes more focus to keep everything in motion. Multitasking can be exhausting! I do believe there are some people who are natural jugglers, who possess an amazing ability to balance multiple activities and give adequate attention to them. But there are other souls, myself included, who excel at being single-minded, people that must focus on one enterprise at a time to do it justice. Multitasking distracts me, makes me wonder, "What was I doing and why was I doing it?" In order to accomplish a task that has many steps to it, such as creating a complex bead or piece of jewelry, I must collect up all the ingredients I need, lay everything out in a somewhat orderly fashion, and then methodically work it through to the end. On the other hand, I know some incredible multitaskers who can accomplish so much at once. If they do happen to get momentarily distracted, they use that distraction as a springboard for new ideas. Distractions inspire fresh ideas for me, too. However, there is a risk that I might not recall my original idea if I dwell for too long on ….. now what was I doing?

But I digress. Let me ask you: do you multitask or focus on one thing at a time?

"If you can't ride two horses at once, you shouldn't be in the circus."- American proverb


  1. I like that proverb! I think I must be my own, three-ring circus.

    I've had this discussion many times with two co-workers. I had been thinking there was a gender divide on this subject. If you think about it, women with children MUST multi-task. They're almost forced into multi-tasking, especially if they have more than one child. Even with one child, sometimes the demands of the child require dividing attention from the current focus (example: driving) and finding that pacifier to soothe the crying baby.

    I rotate between multi-tasking and single-threading. However, in general, I would probably be labeled as a multi-tasker. Example: right now, I'm working on an agenda, updating meeting notes, popped over to your blog, and trying to figure out how to develop the presentation template. Now...a normal person would look at this and find it extremely inefficient to do this. However, when things require a lot of careful thought, I find it best for me to take what I call "brain breaks" from the current concentration. I'll circle back to it and sometimes come up with better ideas because I either found some more to add by grazing on other ideas. Or I rested my brain from it's intense concentration on the particular subject. I find my creativity refreshed by multi-tasking.

    On the other hand, productivity often benefits from me single-threading. When I needed to accomplish a custom order, I single-threaded and laid out all the glass and materials I needed to get everything done. Back to another point of view: when I was an admin assistant, I would multi-task. I figured out how to 1) boot the computer, 2) start the coffee, 3) start making copies, 4) sort mail…technically in a single-threaded sequence, but with the timing such that I was never waiting for something to finish. I was always productive while something else was starting and in progress.

  2. Yes, moms multitask- no choice. Doesn't mean we have to like it!
    I switch between the two also. I see the need for "brain breaks" onn a regular basis. But I truly work best when I focus on one thing and see it through to completion. Hard to do when the task at hand is dreaded in some way.

  3. I've also figured out a weird thing. I think it comes from having a really boring job and trying to stretch out my work in the distant past. I like having "unfinished projects." It flies against another part of my personality that likes completion and dwells on the possibilities instead of what is and imagines what the completion is like. But, I like having about 4-5 partially started or unfinished projects.

  4. Huh- I do that, too. I think it makes me feel a sense of purpose.