The other day, in a conversation with a friend, I realized that it’s not the Multi-Tasking that’s impossible—it’s the Multi-Thinking! I can do two things at once as long as one of them requires little or no thought. For example, folding laundry while talking on the phone with a friend. I can do that!
I both knit and sew (not simultaneously), and can do either one while watching TV. But to some degree it depends on the complexity of the craft and the complexity of the television program. If the program is to engrossing, the knitting trails off. If the sewing requires some problem solving the TV gets put on pause.
Frankly I am no longer a ‘spring chicken’—cluck, cluck—and it is much more challenging to do Multi-Thinking tasks. As a CFO I remember walking down the hall at work and having multiple employees ask me all sorts of questions about varied topics in rapid succession. At the time I relished it. It was sort of like being on a Quiz Show with all the questions being in the category of Accounting and Business. It was true Multi-Thinking.
One of the main reasons that I think Multi-Tasking out lasts Multi-Thinking as we age is habit. “The Power of Habit”, by Charles Duhigg was quite illuminating on how much habit supports our daily lives. Those routines are ingrained. I fold laundry a certain way. I’ve done it that way for years. It’s a task I don’t have to think about. It’s a habit.
Cooking is a habit and routine that is often easy for me. However, if I’m following a recipe and having to go step by step it shifts from being routine to needing thinking. If a friend it talking to me while I’m cooking I have to keep reminding myself of what’s next. So when the routine gets interrupted, the Multi-Thinking gets challenged.
Remember that study that showed that when we are interrupted at work it takes more than 20 minutes to get our heads back where they were? Perhaps that too has to do with Multi- Thinking vs Multi-Tasking?
Which brings me to another point. Naming this idea Multi-Thinking really clarifies and distinguishes which things I can combine together and which things I can’t. It’s all in what I name it isn’t it?
For many years now I’ve contended that a major part of the problem with the acceptance of climate change is the name “Global Warming”. I call it “Global Weirding”—and that is right on. Weather is getting weird!
So there is value in having a name for something! It lets us think about and hold it differently. We become more adept at managing it.
Here we are in September, when many of us really get back into our work lives. What might be different if you make the distinction and allow a bit of Multi-Tasking, while banning Multi-Thinking?
Shell Tain, The Untangler
Want to explore this Multi-Thinking idea a bit more? Give me a call at 503-258-1630 or check out my website at www.sensiblecoaching.com