31 May, 2009

Multitasking? Bah! Humbug!

When the character of Charles Emerson Winchester was introduced in MASH to replace Frank Burns as the uptight major and butt of BJ (himself a similar-enough-but-different-enough replacement for Trapper John) and Hawkeye’s jokes, he introduced himself to the outfit and to the audience with the lines, “I do one thing at a time, I do it very well, and then I move on.”

Such a line would have been intended to indicate what an insufferably arrogant Bostonian snob he was supposed to be. But I'm beginning to think there was a lot of wisdom in Winchester's creed.

“Multitasking” is a word that was originally used to describe a computer operating system's ability to run more than one program at a time without crashing. It’s now also used to describe how people should be expected to work - and I’m beginning to think it's unhealthy.

As I write this, it’s 4:50 on a Sunday afternoon. I’ve just been trying to reinstall Windows on a friend’s laptop but to no avail as the CD drive in it appears to be cactus. Had it worked, I would have left that running with occasional glances to check on its progress while I did the other things I had planned to do today and in which I am behind schedule. I've already typed up a calendar for Mum and shifted some rocks in the garden for Dad, and those were already delayed by the call about the aforementioned laptop. I’m about to deliver the laptop back to its owner and when I get home, I will begin preparation for a class I have on Wednesday morning. I have to do that today since all my time on Monday and Tuesday is already allocated to admin work, brochure design, classes, a committee meeting and several other jobs I still have hanging over my head so if I don't do it today, I won’t be prepared at all. And there's a friend I've been meaning to visit for over a week. As a result, neither job is really getting the attention it deserves. It's not that I can’t excel at any of these things but it’s the lack of being able to satisfactorily finish one job before starting another that leads to immense frustration and, I think, is detrimental to the quality of all the jobs.

I can imagine there are a few parents out there reading this and scoffing that they should have it so good. And you should. Respect to you. But perhaps Charles had it right all along. Perhaps the best work is done by being able to do one thing at a time, do it very well, and then move on. As distractible as I am, I'd love to be able to be that way.


  1. I would love to be that way too Bill! My job calls for me to be able to multi-task and do a number of jobs at once, but I must say, the more jobs I have going at once the harder I find it to complete any to my satisfaction! (having perfectionist tendencies most work is 'not up to the standard' I would like!)

    Death to multi-tasking I say!..LOL

    If only it was that simple!

  2. As I type this I'm making breakfast, paying overdue bills, washing clothes, drying my hair, praying for the funds to pay overdue bills and setting my nails. My mother would say I'm being lazy and then list the 100 things she's currently doing. I think all women are either natural multitaskers or at least artificialy required to be.

    You try typing with wet fingernails.

  3. I'm not sure if I subscribe to the gender predisposition theory, although it's undeniable that multitasking is expected more from girls, and at a younger age, which may explain why women seem more attuned to the expectation.

    I must say, I'm flattered. I assume that people only look at thing thing when they have nothing better to do. I usually read and comment when I have better things to do that I would prefer not to.