I’ve always been a little obsessed with productivity and efficiency. I like to use my time and energy to the fullest, to run errands and carry out chores in a way that uses the day well.
But I’ve noticed something recently about myself.
I’ve carried the idea of multitasking into my daily routine. Recently, I’ve noticed how many things I try to do while brushing my teeth in the morning. I’ll load up my pockets with wallet, keys, etc. I’ll pull out the clothes I want to wear. I’ll even try making the bed.
None of these are herculean tasks, but here’s what I’ve noticed: when I’m doing these things, I stop brushing my teeth. I usually can’t make the bed one-handed, so I’ll leave the toothbrush in my mouth, and spend 15 or 20 seconds fixing the sheets, pillows, and comforter. When I’m done, I put my hand back on the toothbrush and resume.
Now one idea of multitasking is that you use spare capacity to get more things done in the same amount of time. But I think I’ve turned multitasking into a way to get a lot of things done in the morning–and to spend an awful long time brushing my teeth…or at least, an awful long time walking around with a toothbrush hanging out of my mouth.
I’m not really multitasking–I’m not actually doing several things at once. I’m really just interrupting my toothbrushing because I see something else that I also want to get done, and I end up doing both things inefficiently. Making the bed with one hand–while trying not to drip toothpaste from my mouth onto the sheets–is not efficient. And walking around with a toothbrush hanging out of my mouth is not a dentist-recommended method for getting clean teeth.
But here’s the amazing part: having noticed my tendency to engage in this behavior, having evaluated and realized that it actually isn’t an efficient way to go through my morning routine, I KEEP ON DOING IT! It’s like I have this warped perspective that I can be doing more during my morning, that I’m wasting time while brushing my teeth, so off I go to try and handle another chore. Never mind that overall toothbrushing time has quadrupled, with no gain in actual number of brushstrokes.
I am certain that if I simply brushed my teeth and then went on to make the bed, the overall time would not be any longer than my current system–and might actually be quite a bit shorter. My path to multitasking efficiency has taken me in the completely wrong direction!
I have the best of intentions: I want to do my part around the house, I want to use my available time well, I want to be well-prepared for the day ahead. But unfortunately, those intentions have turned into a routine that is going nowhere.
Multitasking is a hot topic these days, so much so that some states have laws to limit it. Many states forbid talking on the cell phone (or texting) while driving. Everyone has realized that when you’re doing two things at once, you’re probably not giving either one your complete attention. Perhaps you’ve found yourself on the phone with someone else who happens to be driving while talking to you; ever feel like they’re not really listening to you? And if they are really conversing with you, think about how nervous the other cars are about the lack of attention being paid to the road!
And this drive to efficiency is not just in the morning routine or on the highway. I find it in my spiritual life as well. How many things can I do while reading the Bible? How many plans can I make while sitting in church? How many errands can I run while praying?
Sometimes, I just need to force myself to stop, to focus on doing one thing, and doing it well. It’s not inefficient to want to work with excellence and diligence. It isn’t laziness to handle one thing at a time. It might actually be incredibly liberating, and a lot less hectic. Our homes might be a lot more peaceful if I’m not running around between the bathroom and the bedroom with a toothbrush dangling from between my teeth.
Efficiency, good use of resources, is a virtue. But we can push it too far, locking ourselves into a mindset that we’re being uber-productive, when all were really doing is living with an uncontrollable drive to do more, even if we’re not doing it particularly well. Multitasking sounds like a good theory, and for computers it’s a great practice. But maybe we need to be a little more single-minded at times, even if it makes us look less efficient.