I've been a manager for a long time, and one thing I am good at is productivity. I get a lot done. It's because I'm organized, and it's because I take the time every day to get organized so I know going into each day what I'm going to do and how I'm going to do it. I wasn't always this way. I certainly wasn't born with this talent--I had to learn it. There are two ways to get more done--either work longer, or work smarter. I decided it was well worth the effort to learn to work smarter. It's not easy to learn, and it requires a great deal of self-discipline.
Because of it, I'm able to work a full time job, have a family, write a book or a novel just about every year, write for two blogs regularly, write three of four articles that are published in various magazines each year, fulfill the considerable duties of Secretary at my lodge, help organize numerous Masonic events, and still have time left over to read a couple books every week and catch my favorite television shows.
But I don't multi-task. It's a myth. I do one thing at a time. I set chunks of time aside to work on specific tasks each day. Once I have finished one task or project, I work on another. I don't make lists of ten or twenty things I need to get done in one day like I used to. I make a list of no more than three. If I get those done, I can begin another task. If I only get two of those tasks done, I'll finish the last task the next day. It took years to figure this out.
You only have so much time in a day. It takes the human mind time to shift between tasks. When I used to shift between tasks, I'd have to stop and figure out where I was last time I worked on a specific task. I'd spend valuable time re-familiarizing myself with it. If I'd just have finished it instead of setting it aside to work on something else, I would have been time ahead. There was great truth in something I was taught growing up--it's better to do one thing well than five things poorly.
I've known many "multi-taskers" in my lifetime, but I've yet to meet one that makes it work. They are always busy, but don't seem to get much done. Very often what they do get done isn't exactly perfect--you'll find mistakes or holes in their plans they haven't thought all the way through (because they haven't given themselves the time or focus necessary to do that job well).
I know a lot of Freemason multi-taskers--in this Fraternity, that seems to be the rule rather than the exception. I find the same thing with them. They aren't any better at multitasking than the ones I know from the working world. They try and do everything--Blue Lodge, York Rite, Scottish Rite, Shrine, Demolay, Eastern Star. It's the same way I began, and I finally realized I needed to focus on a couple things I really wanted to do and could enjoy instead of spreading myself so thin. It's not easy saying "no" but I've finally learned to, and as a result I enjoy it much more. I go into meetings prepared. I don't have to make excuses for why I forgot to do something I took on nearly as often. I don't suffer the embarrassment of finding myself in a role for which I'm unprepared. If I'd kept spreading myself as thin as I did in the beginning, I think I would have burned out by now.
We've all know that Mason, the one that showed up at a York Rite Degree and forgot they agreed to take a part--and there they are a half an hour before it is to begin, standing in the corner trying to learn something in a few mintues they should have been working on for a month. Or the Secretary that gets reading the previous month's minutes and realizes there were two or three things he was supposed to do during the last month that he forgot (I know that one from experience).
We all know that expression about "wearing too many hats." I've always wondered if that term originated with Masonry, since it seems to fit Freemasons so well. We all want to wear many hats--be all things to all people. And sometimes we leap before we look. We take on jobs because we want to help, and then find we've taken on much more than we can actually do. As a result, so many of the things we agree to do don't get done with the level of attention they deserve.
So think about these things before you write down more items on your "to-do" lists. If your going to wear the hat and take on the task, then wear it well. It just requires that we only take on what we can reasonably handle, focus on the task at hand, and finish what we begin.
That old expression with the hats has a little hidden wisdom in it--you don't wear two hats at once, do you? You see, the thing with hats is, you only wear one hat at a time. You pick it out before you leave the house and you wear that same hat until you return from your errand. Right?
~Todd E. Creason, 33°
originally published 1/23/14 as "The Myth of Multi-Tasking"