In our modern lives it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of everything we have to do. Try as we might the never-ending to-do list and Outlook reminders fall short of organising our hectic lives. In an attempt to maximise the efficiency of our jam-packed day many of us turn to multi-tasking. The telephone finds itself precariously balanced between ear and shoulder while our fingers furiously type away at some urgent email. We text while we walk; with heads bowed we slowly meander in a vague attempt to avoid bumping into oncoming pedestrians. I am sure many of us have made the mistake of rushing out the door with wet nails only to find that the varnish has been marred by some unidentified object.
We watch the TV whilst making dinner and I’ve even known people to clean the shower whilst in it, anything to gain those extra few minutes. When, one day, I found myself painting the kitchen wall as my dinner was cooking on the hob, I realised that this obsession with multi-tasking has gone too far!
While many of us are in a hurry to get everything done utilising the art of multi-tasking has its draw-backs. As I attempted to salvage the remains of my burnt dinner these draw-backs became abundantly clear. What we may save in time we definitely lose in quality; a sloppy, half-painted wall and a burnt dinner are not the benchmarks of efficiency. Whatever happened to doing one thing at a time and doing it right? Concentrating fully on that one thing, with no distractions, finishing it and then moving on the next thing? Or, to give it its technical term: Mono-tasking.
It appears that I am not the only person to have this realisation, a growing number of experts, from product designers to scientist have raised the question: how efficient is multi-tasking? One such individual, product designer Paolo Cardini, has created a product range around the idea of mono-tasking. He asks us: when was the last time we just listened to our friend’s voice on the phone without focusing on anything else? His suggestion that we take the time to just appreciate the moment leads us to believe that mono-tasking is not only a way to maximise efficiency but to achieve fulfilment and stimulate personal growth.
So, I tried mono-tasking, but old habits die hard. While on the phone my fingers are restless, they wander up and down the keyboard, longing to type. Although I do manage to refrain from painting the kitchen wall while cooking dinner I find my day is still compromised by a steady stream of interruptions; the phone rings, or someone is asking if I have seen their keys/football kit/ the remote. Even as I am writing this article I have had two emails, a text message and the radio is still on. It seems it is impossible to successfully mono-task, let alone reach the kind fulfilment hinted at by being totally absorbed in the present moment. It is a widely accepted premise that multi-tasking is a skill that has been fine-tuned in order to deal with our modern inventions. Television, mobile phones and social interactions all demand a small bit of our attention at the same time. Short of moving to an isolated Amish community it seems that we are powerless to escape this modern way of life. So, while multi-tasking is an essential coping mechanism, in some cases, it appears to not only affect efficiency but also to limit us personally.
This may even affect our personal relationships. If our attention is permanently divided we are not really listening to our loved ones. How many arguments have occurred due to a simple misunderstanding? And if our personal relationships are not able to blossom to their full potential are we stunting our personal growth?
It would seem that, in order to get the most out of life, we need to both multi-task and mono-task. Some things undoubtedly require more attention than others. So what if we talk on the phone while typing? – as long as the two are fairly standard tasks. However, if the task at hand involves an important conversation, or, in my, case cooking dinner, it’s probably best to really focus on what we’re doing and what is happening.
What started as a quest for efficiency has really thrown open some questions about the impact of what we do day to day and, more importantly, how we do it. In terms of our careers, being wholly focused on the task at hand will not only yield better results but could deliver greater job satisfaction. In terms of our personal relationships concentrating our full attention on the moment can aid communication and promote personal fulfilment. It seems really possible that changing the way we do things can improve not only productivity and happiness but aid personal growth.