Leesa Butler

In Defence of Multitasking – by Leesa Butler


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Recently an Australian Greens party senator, Larissa Waters, became the first woman to breastfeed her daughter while giving a speech in Australian Parliament. (This is the same woman who made headlines breastfeeding while on the floor last month.) It’s an amazing spectacle, not because of the politics of breastfeeding in public, but because it exemplifies the beauty – and necessity – of multitasking.

Search the word and you’ll find plenty of articles downplaying multitasking. Their research findings will tell you that trying to complete too many tasks at once will cloud your mind, and you’ll end up being less productive. Instead we end up distracted, unable to dedicate ample time to any single task.

Meh, I’m not so sure.

I’m all for mental clarity and concentration. But why throw the baby out with the bath water? Multitasking has its advantages. No one just does laundry. We toss clothes in the washer and tackle one to many things in between loads. I can’t think of a single dinner I’ve cooked where I didn’t multitask. While chicken is cooking, I’m preparing the vegetables AND making a salad AND pouring the wine. (OK, I confess, the wine gets poured first.) If I didn’t multitask my meal, I wouldn’t eat for hours and everything would be cold. 

In work, multitasking helps me complete tasks I consider mundane – balancing a spreadsheet, filing receipts – while keeping my interest piqued on other matters – bookmarking articles to read later, browsing social media. I’ve identified those tasks that bore me, and specifically multitask through them.

It’s not THAT you multi-task, it’s knowing what you can multitask and what you can’t.

I cannot write or prepare a pitch with the distraction of my in box or Twitter. I need to concentrate. Some things demand such focus I can’t even listen to music. But I know what those are, and plan time for them within my day. I also know to schedule these highly focused tasks when my creativity and energy are at their peak, but that’s another blog post.

Time can be an ally, or an enemy. ~ Zig Ziglar

My friend’s father retired at 53. He’d run a multi-million dollar company for years, days packed with meetings, lunches and well, work. He went from doing ten or 20 things at once to doing nothing. Within a couple of months he felt his mental capacity failing. He’d forget the simplest things. His perceived lack of mental capacity worried him to the point he called on a specialist to ensure he wasn’t suffering from dementia. 

He wasn’t. But his brain did miss multitasking. He was advised to add more structure and routine to his day. Without pressing matters to juggle throughout the day, his brain matter was bored. Maybe multitasking helps keep our cylinders firing.  

Quit counting time and start making time count. 

Productivity is not a one size fits all solution. Some of us live by to do lists. Some don’t. Some of us multitask Some don’t. It’s important to understand how you work best, and be mindful of what needs your undivided attention. 

Just don’t tell a mom she shouldn’t multitask.

about Leesa:  Leesa Butler is a marketing consultant in Toronto and lifestyle blogger at the F-List (www.f-list.ca). Leesa and Jody met 15 years ago and have been sharing drinks, laughs and advice in backyards ever since.

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