The world didn’t even exist. All that mattered was that I figured out how to keyframe some audio in Final Cut Pro X.
I was editing a video, and I was absorbed in it. I had what productivity experts call flow. I wasn’t checking email, worrying about Twitter, or instant messaging anyone. I was doing one thing well.
So naturally, it should come to nobody’s surprise that a colleague chose that exact moment to walk in to ask me to do something.
I didn’t even look up. “Yeah.” How do I adjust audio with keyframes, dangit?
“Like really busy?”
I looked up. “I was really busy. What’s up?”
If you’ve followed this blog, you know I’ve talked about the cost of switching gears – that is, the mental downshift you have to make when you’re absorbed in something and are asked to focus on something else. It sounds completely academic, I know, but let me assure you: the cost is real, and it sucks.
“Can you look at a few things for me? I need to send them off later today.”
“I can later. Let me finish this round of edits on this video first.”
He smiles and decides it’s time to joke. “What, Mr. Web Nerd can’t do more than one thing at a time?”
I’m annoyed, so I give him my Annoyed Grimace, which I’m pretty sure looks like an animal with gastrointestinal distress. But do I care? No I do not.
“Mr. Web Nerd can do one thing really well, or multiple things pretty poorly. Give me about five minutes and we’ll have a cool video and some nicely edited whatever-it-is-you-need-me-to-edits. If you want me to do them both right now, this video will cause kittens to cry and your whatevers will sound like they were written by a honey badger.”
“What? What’s a honey badger?”
“Ever hear of YouTube?”
“Ha ha, smart guy.”
“Look up the honey badger. It’s quality stuff.” I pause. “Sort of like this thing will be if I can finish it.” I point to my LCD with Final Cut Pro X waiting for me patiently.
“So I’ll come back in five minutes?”
“Make it ten.”
This is more or less a recounting of a real conversation. I’m fully aware that I might get email in which people will say I was a jerk, and maybe so. But it highlights a reality that’s out there but not accepted despite rafts of productivity gurus, executives and even neurosurgeons reinforcing it.
There is no such thing as multitasking.
Ha, you say. Check out my monitor. I have like 50 tabs open, 12 different IM sessions, and I’m checking Facebook and Twitter. I’m commenting on funny cat pictures too. Oh, and I’m also writing something, but I can’t remember what. Or why. Whatever. This is multitasking, brother. You should try it sometime.
When I hear multitasking, I think texting and driving. Flying a plane and cooking. Writing a book and fighting an MMA contest.
I hear multiple things being done really poorly.
I’m 43, so I’m allowed to be crunchy and overly direct. And it’s time I use these powers to reinforce the magic of unitasking.
Most of the time, unless I’m intentionally messing around in a browser for the sake of messing around in a browser, I use my apps full-screen. I often close down email for a few hours every day. I turn notifications off. Yes, these are manual steps, and they seem insane at first – until you realize that your long-lost focus has been hidden in the ding and beeps and popups of our over-stimulated life.
The irony is that the more you have to do, the more unitasking helps you. Instead of fragmenting your attention over a half dozen things, you focus on one. You get your main task done better and quicker than you ever could if you were trying to do it while looking for that attachment your boss needs so he can email it to his boss.
It’s a counterintuitive idea in today’s productivity culture, I know. We’re always on, always connected, always responsive, aren’t we?
Should we be?
Try unitasking for a day or two. Then a week. Actually schedule time to do one thing and one thing only, and set a timer if need be. Close your door so colleagues get the idea.
You work will be better, you’ll be calmer, and your task list will shrink quicker than it ever has.
Now I have some video to edit. Excuse me.
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