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Multi-tasking Revisited

Tuesday, May 04, 2004
I've been fighting a losing battle with my "to do" list for a couple of weeks -- the result of too much time spent out of the office and too little time spent at my computer. And now that I'm actually back at my desk, I'm having a hard time prioritizing the million-and-one tasks that are simultaneously screaming out for my attention. And I thought that motherhood had done such a fabulous job of teaching me how to multi-task....

But wait -- maybe multi-tasking is at the heart of the problem. I am just in the middle of reading Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Les Hewitt's book The Power of Focus, and the authors make the point that if you lose your focus, you lose your effectiveness. Makes sense to me. I know from first-hand experience that when I try to make dinner, pay bills, and talk to my kids at the same time, I risk burning dinner, putting the checks in the wrong envelopes, and only half-listening to my kids (or, gulp, not listening to them at all). The same thing applies to my professional life. I can't do a good job writing an article or a book if I'm trying to pay bills or make phone calls at the same time.

Martha Beck makes a similar point in a recent article in O Magazine when she talks about the limits of human attention: "If we try to multi-task in too many directions, our brains begin to act exactly like what they are: overloaded electrical circuits."

So multi-tasking is officially out of vogue. That means you can enjoy that cup of coffee guilt-free, without feeling like you should be balancing your checkbook at the same time. (Well, at least in theory.)

And I guess we'll have to change that slogan, "You, go girl" to something a little less action-oriented -- perhaps, "Plant it, girlfriend" or something -- to reflect the fact that we're actually allowed to do one thing at a time. (The experts have given us permission -- remember?)

| posted by Ann D @ 11:09 PM