Doing It All…And Getting Nothing Done

Last week, the local news aired a story about a man who drove his car into the side of a passing train.  According to witnesses, the lights were flashing and the guard arms were down, but the man couldn’t stop in time.  Why?  Because, also according to witnesses, the man was texting while driving.  His 4-year old son was in the car with him.   (Both were lucky to survive the crash.)I’m not going to comment or pass judgment on this incident.  I think we have all made mistakes and have overestimated our ability to (successfully) accomplish multiple tasks simultaneously – although, maybe not with this disastrous of a result.  (Am I the only one that has found milk in the cupboard and a cereal box in the fridge?)

I am saddened that we seem to have lost good sense and consideration for our own safety and that of our children and those around us.  We’ve armed ourselves with too many gadgets that fill up every waking minute of our lives.  We tout our multitasking abilities like a badge of honor.  It makes me wonder if this behavior could be a factor in the rise of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) diagnoses.  Could overstimulation in the environment contribute to such a diagnosis?  I don’t know…

Here’s an anecdotal story on the subject.  As a child, I could spend hours on any one task.  I didn’t have my days scheduled to the max or activities to go to every night of the week (one benefit of being an introverted child, I guess.)  When I was in college, I waitressed thirty-five hours a week, on top of my full course load.  To get studying in, I walked around with flashcards, I read textbooks while I ate dinner, I studied during commercials (on the few occasions that I did watch TV.)  The result?  It took me years before I could just eat – and I still eat faster than I should.  I get fidgety when I’m doing nothing because there’s so much to do.  But relaxing really is doing something – it recharges the brain and body.

Studies suggest that multitasking may not be a good thing.  Here’s a few articles I ran across:  Multitasking can cause neurological damage, Multitasking may not mean higher productivity, and Multitasking adversely affects brain’s learning.  Research studies validate the theory that we can’t do multiple tasks and do them well – something suffers.  But still, we try.

So, do you prefer to multitask to the max or tackle one thing at a time?  Or are you ambidextrous in your lifestyle?


16 thoughts on “Doing It All…And Getting Nothing Done

  1. nrhatch November 3, 2010 / 8:47 PM

    With the exception of running the dishwasher, or doing a load of clothes, I focus on one thing at a time . . . remaining mindful of the task at hand.

    Control your thoughts, control your life.

    Anyone who texts while driving is an idiot.

    • jannatwrites November 3, 2010 / 9:09 PM

      Good for you! That’s the way to do it. My goal is to do one task at a time, but mornings tend to get me. If I don’t take a deep breath and slow down, I end up frazzled – and without a lunch at work because I left it on the counter.

      I’ve never texted at all, but it looks very unsafe to do while driving. I limit distractions because people drive crazy here. (One time, I passed this car that kept swerving and couldn’t keep a consistent speed. The man had a map spread across the steering wheel. The funny thing was, it was a mobile claims unit for an insurance company! I still wonder why he didn’t invest in a GPS?)

    • nrhatch November 3, 2010 / 9:53 PM

      I thought of a few other multitasking things I do:

      * Play sudoku (during the commercials) while watching TV
      * Walk on the beach AND admire the view
      * Eat AND listen to music, watch TV, or chat with friends
      * Sit in the sun AND read a good book

      What text addicts need . . . hands free texting. Or maybe a GPS that can handle the driving by itself. 🙂

      • jannatwrites November 3, 2010 / 10:29 PM

        Your multitasking items go together like peanut butter and jelly. It’s the conflicting tasks that worry me. Like typing an email while talking on the phone, doing pretty much anything while driving, watching TV and paying bills, etc.

        I could use a GPS that drives for me. My morning commute would be so much nicer 🙂

  2. Bill Greeves November 3, 2010 / 11:11 PM

    I am definitely a multi-tasker to the max. But I don’t think of it as a badge of honor as much as a crutch of conformity to the constraints on my time. For me it feels like a necessity with a busy job, a successful side biz, a (dare I say?) budding second career as a writer and a big, busy family. I hate wasting time more than I do money. I rarely ever text, but when I do it is for work. I use my commute time to prepare a mental list of what needs to be done that day, or that evening, or that whenever. Despite the “pressure” I still consider myself very much Type B and casual. I rarely get stressed and I have hobbies and a great family that give me the opportunity to decompress.

    When I discuss the topic with my European friends, they make fun of this drive that seems so typical here in the States. But that is whole different blog post…

    Don’t get me wrong, I love my life and there’s very little I’d change if I could. Besides, if I did any less, I think I’d be bored. 🙂

    • jannatwrites November 4, 2010 / 5:21 PM

      It sounds like you ‘ve got it under control. I’ve met a few multi-taskers who are very much Type A personalities. I stay out of their way 🙂

      Good luck on your quest to ‘have it all’. I need to check your query status – I forgot to check last time I was on your site.

      • Bill Greeves November 4, 2010 / 7:37 PM

        alas no change yet on the query status. I keep chuggin’ though!

        • jannatwrites November 4, 2010 / 8:29 PM

          I suppose that’s all you can do. I’ll get back to it here soon…I hope. The holidays may squash my good intentions, though!

  3. jpcabit November 4, 2010 / 6:08 AM

    Hmmmm…I strongly prohibit myself from even looking at a text message while driving. But I do talk on the phone, adjust the music track, volume, bass, treble, switch between CD and tape, check my MPG’s, check my MPH’s, all while driving. A good thing or a bad thing? And does anyone sense a little hypocrisy here? :-s lol

    Sure it would be nice to multitask. I’ve tried to read and listen to something before, but my mind switches between one or the other. I’ve tried to read schoolbooks while riding (not driving!) in the car, but that doesn’t go over too well. Too many distractions!!! I guess I’m more of a one-at-a-time person.

    • jannatwrites November 4, 2010 / 5:27 PM

      I hope you don’t do all those things in the car at once 🙂 At least you admit the hypocrisy…most people don’t recognize it. Made me laugh, anyway!

      Multitasking is overrated and I limit it because something stupid usually happens. Although, I do think I did better with it when I was younger.

      • jpcabit November 4, 2010 / 6:23 PM

        You know that whole “What do you see, a bunny or a duck?” gag? Well, I hear your brain just switches between bunny & duck. It doesn’t actually see both. So maybe that’s the whole multitasking affair.

        It’s like looking someone in the eyes. You don’t actually look at their eyes, just one then the other? Which is a little odd if you ask me. But who am I to criticize age-old people habits. Eh? Oh wait, I’m a blogger. I guess I can. He he.

        But now, my fingers are just typing.

        Can you tell that I’m Nanoing this year? 😀 lol

        • jannatwrites November 4, 2010 / 8:28 PM

          The brain is actually quite fascinating. I’ve never heard about the looking in the eye thing, so I can now say that I learned something new today…thanks!

  4. Ollin November 5, 2010 / 7:20 PM

    Wow. That is SOOO irresponsible. YOUR CHILD! IS IN THE CAR! Unbelievable. My child will not ride in a car until he is 18, period. He’s riding a bike and taking public transportation because it is good for the environment and so he wont get hurt. lol.

    Great post, Janna! One of my faves, I think because I totally agree with you and I am very passionate about “single-tasking.” I am a focus-driven person. I’m like you used to be, I can focus on one thing for hours. That’s why I’m a good novel writer I guess, but it means I’m pretty bad at most jobs because they want you to multitask. That never makes sense to me, because in the end, as you said, I end up doing everything half-ass, and I’d rather do something full-ass than do a bunch of things half-ass, and just have a bunch of half-asses lying around.

    Ok, I think I just made your future comment hall of fame with that one. 🙂

    • jannatwrites November 5, 2010 / 8:54 PM

      Good thing you don’t live here, because bicyclists frequently get hit and there have also been instances of cars driving into bus stops full of waiting people. It may be safer to be INSIDE the car 🙂

      It’s good you can stay focused on one thing so all of your work gets the attention it deserves. I’ve got WAY to many distractions, so I have lots of lists – when something pops into my head, I write it down so my brain can move on. Not quite single-tasking, but it’s the best I can do at the moment 🙂

      When I get a comment hall of fame, I’m sure your contribution will be there 🙂 As always, thanks for dropping by and leaving your two cents!

  5. amanda November 17, 2010 / 3:42 PM

    I’m often forced to multi-task (4 kids=a lot going on), BUT I never do things that will harm myself or others. It’s more like making dinner, while helping two kids with homework, while answering emails in the safety of my kitchen. I would much rather focus on one thing at a time — I’m better that way. And, I have absolutely no problem with simply sitting and relaxing…ahhhh….

    • jannatwrites November 17, 2010 / 7:18 PM

      I don’t know how you handle 4 kids…I only have 2 and there are some days I don’t know what I’m doing! So glad you don’t dangerously multi-task…and that you can find time to relax 🙂 🙂

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