Recently, I typed “How To Multi-Task” in my web search engine and got back over 10 million hits. Multi-tasking, it seems, is a highly treasured skill. The dictionary says multi-tasking is the ability to “perform more than one task or activity at a time.” Of course, many high-functioning, go-getter-types claim to be great multi-taskers, presumably because that’s what employers and organizational leaders are looking for.
But there is a problem. The human brain was not designed to multi-task. In fact, what is actually happening is not multi-tasking at all, but multi-switching. “Psychologists who study what happens to cognition (mental processes) when people try to perform more than one task at a time have found that the mind and brain were not designed for heavy-duty multitasking.”[i] Furthermore, research shows that the more we try to multi-task, the less we accomplish. Our brains are designed to focus, not multi-task.
This got me thinking about a sticky note that I have on my computer screen at the hospital where I minister as a chaplain. The sticky note says,
- Be Available
- Be Present
- Be Not Rushing
- Be Intentional
- Be Mercy-Full
Those five “be” statements really are what I attempt to be and to grow into being. When I am with someone or a group of people, I am to a greater or lesser degree “being” with them. So, really I desire to be good at multi-“be”ing, not multi-tasking. If I am multi-tasking, I am probably not being available or fully present. If I am multi-tasking, I am probably rushing.
Jesus perfectly exemplified the “multi-being,” non-multi-tasking lifestyle. When he was told his best friend Lazarus was seriously ill, Jesus stayed focused where he was on the people and mission before him. When he had finished his ministry in that place, Jesus left to go to Lazarus’ home and found that he had died. Jesus wept openly at his burial place, and the people said, “See, how he loved him” (Jn 11:36). Jesus was always available and present to those who were with him; he was always intentional, full of mercy, and not rushing.
Unfortunately, the typical capitalist business environment of do more, do it perfect, and do it now is antithetical to being human and certainly not multi-being. Businesses and other organizations who desire people to multi-task do not care for their workers. They are oppressing them. And the irony is that it is scientifically impossible to multi-task and multi-tasking actually lowers productivity. So, let’s promote multi-being, rather than multi-tasking.
And while we’re at it, maybe we could change the name from busi-ness to being-ness.
© Paul Dordal, 2017