Frederick the Great is reputed to have said, “If you try to hold everything, you hold nothing.”
He was talking about focus, and applying your effort where it can do the best good, even if that meant you took a hit. This advice, though 200 years old and military in origin, can be applied directly to our lives today.
Yes, I’m talking about multitasking.
“Multitasking” was coined back in the ’60s and related to computers; we wanted them to be able to do more than one thing at once. Since then, we’ve applied it to humans as well. The problem is that we don’t do it as well as computers. In fact, we pretty much suck at it.
We’re on a conference call and we’re checking our email and we’re updating our Facebook status and we’re getting another cup of coffee and we think we’re being soooo productive, but what’s really happening is we’re not listening to the meeting and we’re not reading all of the emails and we’re misspelling our status update and we’re spilling the coffee.
In other words, if we try to do everything, we do nothing. Multitasking reduces our quality and adds to our stress. So, why do we do it? Why do we complicate our lives in this way, and why do we do it voluntarily?
In writing, especially, it is critical to be a single-tasker. I would love to be able to work on my next chapter while I’m in a long conference call or while I’m watching an Olympic fencing match, but I won’t. I respect the work of writing more than that.