Walking the flowers while watering the dog: why multi-tasking doesn’t work

I used to see a lot of multi-tasking at work. It was never a good thing. But since being home looking after baby Prince G, I realise there’s even more multi-tasking going on around here at home. And I must say I am not a fan.

Husband Bill loves to multi-task.

He thinks he’s real good at it too. Checking Facebook while watching the cricket. Renewing our insurance over the phone while on the computer. Watching the cricket while eating toast. Checking Facebook, while on the phone, while watching the cricket, while eating toast AND agreeing to ‘have that talk’ with me about some parenting/relationship/our-future-in-general topic that I obviously take much more seriously than he does.

These talks don’t go well. They usually become an argument about whether he was listening and where his wife happens to fall in the order of priorities of cricket, the insurance lady Tania (pronounced Tar-ni-ya), toast and about 100 Facebook friends. By the end, I usually forget what the original ‘talk’ was about.

Not that I can say I’m any better at multi-tasking. My nan can always tell when she’s on the phone and I’m cooking dinner (‘What’s that noise? Are you opening an oven?’). Then there was the time I was so engrossed in an episode of Selling Houses Australia (it was the all important reveal!) that I didn’t realise I was re-hanging all the dry clothes back on the indoor clothes horse.

So why do we insist on multi-tasking?

What implications does this have on the output quality of what we’re doing and more importantly, our actual enjoyment of those things?

We insist on multi-tasking for the following three reasons:

1. There are not enough hours in the day to get everything done.

True. There are never enough hours in each day, so we do things in tandem in the hope that everything will be done quicker. The words ‘efficiency’ and ‘effectiveness’ are so often used together, but in the case of multi-tasking they are worlds apart. Increased efficiency leads to decreased effectiveness. Watson almost takes a wicket: Bill spills peanut butter down his shirt. It’s hump-day on the Chive: insurance lady Tania (pronounced Tar-ni-ya) leaves Prince G off the policy. I cradle the phone between my ear and shoulder: I end up dropping my nan into the bubbling pot of potato and leek soup. A more effective way to make soup? I think not.

2. The technology to multi-task is always at our fingertips.

Mobile phones have made multi-tasking way too tempting. Checking your phone has become an addiction. It used to be when you saw someone smoking, everyone around you would light up also. Now it’s all about the phones. Do this little experiment next time you’re somewhere relatively mobile free: pull out your phone and look really excited about what’s on the screen. You’ll find a dozen others whipping theirs out too in the hope that someone from high school has liked the photo they posted of their labrador in reindeer ears.

3. Doing just one thing at a time is boring.

Try looking at the flower instead of snapping it – Photo by Frank Lindecke at http://www.flickr.com/photos/kimayoi72/8561039241/

What happened to the days of getting enjoyment out of just one thing? Or even enjoyment from nothing? My great grandmother used to sit on a hard chair at the kitchen table all day waiting for her son to come home from work. When he offered to put the wireless on she told him he was being ridiculous. Who needs the radio!? She had everything she needed right there, and what she needed was nothing. These days we can’t even wait at a table for 30 seconds without getting out the phone to WhatsApp our lunch date to ask where she is, Tweet something funny about how waiting numbs the brain, check-in to the restaurant via Facebook and send an Instagram photo of the flower on the table that wasn’t very pretty to start with but with an antique filter and a white border could pass as a work of art.

All this multi-tasking means we are no longer enjoying the moment.

We miss the finer things in life. We never get to relax. Our lives are made way too public to people who don’t really care but who are having a ‘talk’ with their partner and might as well multi-task by liking that photo of the flower you just posted.

Try this. Just once.

Switch off the phone. And I mean switch it off. Not just hide it in your handbag or turn it to vibrate. OFF. Watch a whole episode of Selling Houses Australia and ring your nan back when it’s over. Eat your toast at the kitchen table. Listen to your partner.

And admire the actual flower on the restaurant table for a full 30 seconds. Without the antique filter and white border, you will be surprised at just how beautiful it can be.


Filed under BLOG: The Duchess of Charlestown

3 responses to “Walking the flowers while watering the dog: why multi-tasking doesn’t work

  1. enjoyed this for one reason I am of a different generation, I have a mobile phone, I love the internet, especially all my WP friends but I haven’t gotten into FB nor Instagram, I have it mainly to see what my son is up to. And my children are all grown having their own kids. There is a lot of pressure on you isn’t there, though I do sympathise with Bill as I am an avid cricket watcher. Enjoying your posts Jessie.

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