A Single deciduous tree stands alone above a sea of evergreens in Colorado National Monument
Back in the aughts, when I was still working, I would occasionally go on job interviews where the question would come up about multi-tasking, “can you multi-task?” the interviewer would ask. This is a lousy question, with only one correct answer, if you want the job. “Of course, I can multi-task.” Or “tell us about a time when you had to multi-task. What was happening and how did you handle it?” That’s a little better question, but it’s still not a thing that people really do.
Multi-tasking is something computers were built to do, not people. It’s a technology thing, not a human thing. It’s not that we can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, but we’re not likely to do two complex operations simultaneously, like a computer can do. After all, you would need to program the computer to do one task, or ask the software installed to do it, and then move on to the second task and do the same thing. Perhaps you could write code that would detail two tasks at once, but I’m not a coder, so I certainly wouldn’t. I would need to use already-installed software to let the computer know what I wanted it to do.
A better question would be, “how do you react when you’re interrupted?” Or “Give us an example of a time when you were deeply involved in a project with a looming deadline, and you were interrupted by a visitor, a phone call, or a last-minute meeting or emergency. What was it, and how did you handle it?” Once again, this makes more sense than “can you multi-task?” The real question is, can you get back on track with your project after you’ve been interrupted? The answer is, most people can, although some people may need to take a break to clear their heads first before getting back into the project. I’m not saying it isn’t a question that should be considered while interviewing people, only that it shouldn’t be given the most weight in hiring decisions.
I also remember seeing an ad for a job that specifically stated that having a good memory was one of the requirements of the job. I got the distinct impression that the interviewers knew what they DIDN’T want, and that was whoever had held the job previously, who they determined didn’t have a good enough memory, or perhaps had used this as an excuse as to why they weren’t getting things done. (“I forgot!”) This is much like an ad I saw once on a dating app from a guy who said he didn’t want anyone who was “scrappy” and he didn’t want anyone who “had emotional baggage,” or anyone who had ever been married before, anyone who had kids etc. … _ You might as well just come out and say you don’t want your old girlfriend or wife, and you don’t want anyone else’s old girlfriend or wife, and you don’t want anyone who’s had any kind of a life before you came along. Good luck with that.
At one time, I worked in a department with a lady for a boss. She was hired in after I was, and somehow seemed to find my presence threatening to her situation. She worked for years to get rid of me, and eventually I did leave. But she used to complain that I wasn’t multi-tasking effectively enough. At one point, one of my co-workers went on vacation for two weeks and I was given the task of doing both his job and mine. His job was one that had daily deadlines, and mine was more project oriented, with only a hard deadline every other week. So, while he was out, I concentrated on doing his job first because of it being so deadline-oriented, and, well, So. Damned. Daily. I don’t think I missed a single deadline on his job, and I don’t remember missing anything on mine either. Nevertheless, my boss complained that I was spending all my time doing his job and I wasn’t doing mine, as if I could do both at the same time, simultaneously. This is the same woman who did everything in her power to alienate me from my co-workers and was successful with some: a truly evil and manipulative person. But I digress.
In my life, I have discovered that giving my full attention to one thing before moving on to another is far more productive than trying to do several things at once. There is a reason why meditation teachers, spiritual directors, and gurus of various descriptions, all recommend a “One-pointed attention.” So, for instance, if you’re eating, you eat. You don’t eat and watch TV or eat and read. You slow down and just eat. That’s one example, but it can be used to describe how to approach almost any activity. This is also why some people post office hours on the door to their offices, so that they can have some period of time each day of uninterrupted productivity. This is a good principle to consider when you are having a conversation with someone as well, and that is, when you are listening, you listen. You don’t listen and scroll (unless you’re trying to shorten the conversation, but it’s always better to be direct and let the person know you don’t have time right now.)
The truth is if you stretch yourself too thin, you’re never going to make deadlines, or even produce quality product, either at work or at home. Some people in the creative fields, or who work for themselves, may take exception to my use of terminology. My choice of words here is taken directly from my experience in the work-a-day world. People who leave that world don’t have projects, or deadlines, or crazy bosses who nitpick every action they take. It’s the same reason why some people don’t like the word “God.” They have too much baggage associated with that word. Fair enough, but it’s easy to change your vocabulary if you want to, and even as a creative person, you may still have things you want to do or create. You just may find that it’s more about the journey now, than the destination.