“Women are great at multi-tasking” - I’m sure you’ve heard that a thousand times. I’ve said that myself on many occasions. The ability to multi-task is assumed to be a positive trait, a more productive way of working. As women we often balance family and career, the office and the household, and it seems like we have multiple plates spinning at any one time. But keeping these plates spinning is not easy, and can lead us to become stressed and tired. Here’s my thoughts on why we should ditch the multi-tasking model, and embrace single-tasking as the new way forward in being more productive both at work and at home.
This is a scene I’m sure you are familiar with - sitting at your desk in your office, writing an important report or paper that’s due soon. You have your email inbox open, just in case something urgent comes through while you’re writing. Plus, maybe you have an instant messenger service like Slack or Skype open too. And then there’s the colleagues that pop by your desk with a question, or just for a chat. You’ve got a meeting on a colleague’s project, but you spend most of the meeting still working on the report and replying to emails. And this is all OK because you’re a great multi-tasker right? At the end of the day, you have a half written report and a stack of hastily written emails sent to important clients. And your colleague who was leading the meeting earlier noticed your lack of input and is feeling less than generous about giving you the input into your report that you need next week. You go home at the end of the day feeling like you haven’t really achieved anything.
And this doesn’t just happen at work. As working mothers running a household we can find ourselves multi-tasking our way through our evenings too. For example, a few nights’ ago I was cooking dinner while continuing to check work emails on my phone (because something important might come through, right?),. And while this was going on my daughter wanted me to play a game with her, I was listening to a podcast (on achieving a work life balance of course!), and I needed to write a shopping list as the cupboards were looking decidedly bare. I’m sure you can imagine how this left me. Dinner was burned, I missed things off the shopping list, the podcast ended and I had no idea what it was talking about. And my daughter, the most important part of the equation, she was just trying to get my attention to spend some quality time together and I missed that opportunity. That’s the thing I felt sad about the most.
People extol the virtues of multi-tasking. Especially women. We’re seen as great multi-taskers, and that’s often the role given to us by society. But does multi-tasking really make us a more productive member of the team? Or member of the family? Can we really get more done by working less?
I believe one of the most important skills in modern society is not multi-taking, but single-tasking. This is what I am focusing on this year- being less busy but more productive. Concentrating on completing each task to the best of my abilities. Dedicating the time to make that report as perfect as can be (and it will never be truly perfect, but that’s another article for another day!). Leaving my laptop behind while attending meetings so I can really be present and listen to my colleagues, giving them the respect and input I would want when running a meeting.
And at home. Turning off all the distractions, being absorbed in one task at a time. Cooking dinner? I could get my daughter involved and we could cook together. If she wants some one-on-one time with me, then I show her that I am there for her. She has all my attention and all my focus. It’s about finding my priorities and giving them my all, one at a time. That is the secret to real productivity.
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