The Multitasking Dilemma

Multitasking shows up on resumes everywhere. I learned all sorts of synonyms for multitasking in my high school “life skills” class so as to impress prospective employers with my vast vocabulary and my ability to juggle multiple tasks at once.

In the past eight years of being a working person, I’ve had a couple jobs that required me to be a Jaqueline of All Trades and to perform all those trades at the same time. One in particular made me question the value in multitasking.

I spent a year as an innkeeper at a lovely little bed and breakfast (The Cass House) on the Central Coast of California after I graduated from college. The job combined so many things I enjoyed doing – cooking/baking, creating warm and welcoming spaces, administrative tasks – yet there was an element of stress that didn’t jive with doing work I loved. Looking back, I realized the stress didn’t come from the actual tasks, but the necessity of doing most of those tasks at the same time.

On any given morning I was flitting about readying the breakfast buffet with coffee and light snacks so hungry patrons would have something to eat while I made their breakfast to order. In between flips of blueberry-almond pancakes, I would get guests checked out, clean rooms, clear tables, and start making fresh flower arrangements. When dishes needed to be done, I also needed to answer emails, take reservations for dinner (The Cass House also happened to house and outstanding restaurant), make cookies, and recommend local activities to guests. All of those things needed to be done and they needed to be done concurrently, but I found that multitasking could suck much of the joy I derived from those tasks right out of the day.

Be Present

I hadn’t really thought much about that aspect of The Cass House until I started painting our kitchen cupboards a couple weeks ago. My suitcase from vacation was still full and on the living room floor as I began taking cupboard doors off their hinges. I created a mess for five days, as I beautified our formerly brown cupboards. While I was painting I began to think of other things I really needed to get done – letters I wanted to answer, a very messy filing system I should have organized months ago, a house that deserved some TLC, blog posts I wanted to finish, and meals that wouldn’t make themselves.

Maybe it’s a combination of my perfectionist, people-pleasing personality and the fact that pregnancy has diminished my energy stores far beyond what I imagined, but I really couldn’t bring myself to multitask. I let all of those things that should get done fall by the wayside as I singularly focused on painting our cupboards. I know that kind of one track mind isn’t always possible, but it felt good to let go.

Not flitting from painting to filing to writing to cleaning allowed me to fully participate in my task. I invested mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual energy into painting my cupboards. (I prayed a lot while I was painting…)

I was fully present.

Being fully present isn’t something I do naturally. Distractions leave me divided and unable to engage with the present – person, place, or activity. While multitasking can be a positive and productive thing, it can promote distractions that divide my attention from what is right in front of me to enjoy.

In a culture that often necessitates we multitask, I’m challenging myself (and you!) to pick one thing a day, a week, a month and let all other tasks fall by the wayside.  Focus and be present!

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