Lord Chesterfield, was a politician in the 1740s. In one of the many letters to his son he said:
“There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once. But there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time.”
Even that long ago multi-tasking was widely believed to be bad. But it has still persevered, so one has to ask why and if it is really synonymous with failing.
We can all imagine the concern of circus audience for the lovely Knife Thrower’s Assistant calmly standing in front of Knife Thrower’s target. But can you imagine the audience concern turned to fear if the Knife Thrower began answering his mobile phone as he is throwing the knife?
With technology available to us today, multitasking is something we do without even knowing. So if it is here to stay, we need to understand how can we keep it in balance?
Some advocates say it all about being in the game and is not always just about being efficient and winning. It is also argued, especially in cognitive work, that multi-tasking in moderation gets breakthroughs. Conversely the big downside is letting people self manage and look busy to get paid for often useless work that does not add any value. So where is the middle ground or balance, especially these days in the 24 hour a day business?
How many times does this happen? Consider when we industriously go to look up something on internet to solve a critical problem. A work colleague or team may have to then wait as we quickly multi task to complete another important thing that came to our inbox? These days we often accept that is ok. In the life and death scenarios however, like in that circus act or in an operating theatre, if the doctor start checking his emails on his IPAD, it would be a quite different story. So why is it ok for the day-to-day matters ?
We also assume if we stop being Google eyed to know everything, we become of less value. Many also believe that so called social networking is also ok, to chat to 30 or 40 people a day between tasks?
"Focus" itself can be a paradox For example keeping your eye on the ball also need you to try to see where to kick it. We need to do both well so we don’t kick a goal for the other team.
Another analogy is patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time. It does get attention at parties but otherwise may not seem that useful, Mind you as one who can do that I argue the coordination skill I now have it allows me to so called multi-task on other things. Like playing piano where each hands has a separate job as complex routines to multitask to pick and play the music across 88 keys.
Playing in the game in the practice and lean it seems is where multi-tasking works. It allows the time to get coordinate many skills together for the real game when it matters. Then focus is able to be marshalled to play premiership footy to win; to do the dangerous acts in a circus without mishap; to play piano like Arthur Rubenstein at Carnegie Hall, or be a great heart surgeon to save lives. Being the life of the party is good too as is make a difference in our own chosen way.
Even though Lord Chesterfield has been dead for over 200 years his ideas are far from old fashioned? For the balance his collective wisdom puts put it together
For example he also said
“Distrust all those who love you extremely upon a very slight acquaintance and without any visible reason”
His message to focus on the day’s work was also to achieve more than one thing. It not just about getting the job done. It includes building that trust with customers who will pay.