Once upon a time, when I was juggling Motherhood and a full-time career, there was a Boss of mine who used to say, “when you get free time, can you work on this?”
I would reply, “I don’t think I’ll get free time, I am putting my entire 8-9 hours a day on this project.”
“No, I mean, do this as a background activity.”
I knew better than to insist otherwise, so would nod my head glumly. In due course he must have come to the conclusion that this woman can’t do much because she doesn’t know multi-tasking the way others of his team did; the ones who spent 10-12 hours in office out of which 7-8 hours were on one project, and the remaining time on ‘background activities’. I believed it was better to be honest than burn myself out trying to match his expectations.

Mothers are multi-taskers by default, more out of necessity than anything else. Unconsciously, underneath, unknown to the world, we juggle a lot of things in parallel. Be it cooking three items on the stove plus throwing clothes into the washing machine plus pacifying a screaming child plus keeping an eye on the hot water tap plus working from home, we are always multi-tasking, we are always multi-thinking.

Given a choice, I would stick to one task at a time. But there is no choice, especially at home, because the mess would pile up if I single-task. For many, it is shameful to even admit that they cannot or don’t want to multi-task.

I do not believe in multi-tasking. I do not think we can achieve a great deal if we look at a hundred things in parallel, especially when each one of them requires tremendous brain activity. It would only lead to burn-out. I am glad I was out before the Social Networking wave hit corporate life, for I would never have managed to convince my team that tweeting or Facebooking while coding is a bad idea. I know a vast majority would contradict this statement of mine, in fact some pride themselves that they can tweet and chat while they work, but I prefer and believe in the power of single-tasking.

The heights of multi-tasking was seen the other day (by a friend who was horrified at the sight): a woman driving a car on the street where children play, was texting (or tweeting?), her hands off the wheel and her eyes off the road. Our brain really isn’t made for the kind of swift-switching required between different levels of creativity, problem-solving and concentration. If it has to evolve, as per Darwin, it will take centuries more.

Single-tasking can be a failure too, if there is no Time Management. We have to time-box our activities and aim to achieve them. I am re-learning Time Management, I am sure I will have a post full of thoughts to share on that. Soon.