I thought about writing a post on the upcoming presidential election and the field of candidates vying for our vote, then thought, better not, at least not without a promising outcome. Same with the weather. You see it’s still cold this April, and even though a northerly wind is a topic to start the conversation, it doesn’t get very far without May flowers. I considered writing about my mother, who a year ago still called me, still planned family gatherings; and yes, did everything humanly possible to make every last one. But really, who would expect otherwise from her, a true party lover and planner? I mentally moved on to the topic of food and considered offering a new recipe, but as I avoid the kitchen and the stove religiously, recipes are hard-fought posts for me. I mostly beg for them.
Curiously I never, or at least basically never, write about my job. About the teaching position I’ve held for over two decades. About the hilarious situations I find myself in daily, like today, when I thought it was Tuesday or Wednesday or any day other than Thursday and as students cued up to tell me, oh I’m missing school for a concert or a drama thingy or a college tour, I responded incorrectly over and over again about missing quizzes or assignments because I kept forgetting the day; you see, hilarious. You should try it though: try having four or five conversations with a room full of young adults at the same time. Humor is essential. But I know what you’re thinking, something about multi-tasking and the ability for the brain to divide itself in all those directions and how intelligent one must be to do exactly that. But after years in the classroom, surrounded by teenagers taller than myself, who call out questions like we’re on a soccer field and there is great urgency and immediacy in my reply, I can only say, through trial and error, that whenever possible, one should not fall into multitasking. Just do one task. Then the next. Then another. And so on down your To-Do List. Don’t answer questions while composing an email and taking attendance. Something will go wrong along the way. You’ll be saying Friday for Tuesday before you even know you did.
Does that mean that I don’t have to multitask? Oh, believe me, just like any mother of a toddler knows the survival skills inherent in multitasking, a teacher constantly juggles too. During my “free” time today, with several stacks of papers piled on my desk, piled with priority in mind, I also compiled grades into our digital grade book, got one student set up to complete a missing essay, discuss her grade on a paper with another, while a third asked if I could read over and then mail his application for a summer program. On my phone there were texts coming from family about a pressing matter, and my inbox filled with all sorts of inquiries. I dashed between all these tasks, trying to stop, focus, respond, and then move on. Moments such as these comprise only fragments of my teaching day. I do love the fluidity, the surprise, and the energy of the job: but I also know that it can fragment my brain beyond repair if I don’t slow the pace down.
My spouse reports that her work day is one interruption after another. Co-workers popping into her cubicle with frantic requests and shifted deadlines from 9 to 5. Whatever it was that she was working on before their entreaty, is left to cool as she attends to their new demand. I am fairly certain that this is true in offices all over our country, where, under the guise of efficiency, multitasking is seen as the end all and be all of company productivity. But research, and experience, will tell you otherwise.
“Don’t believe the multitasking hype, scientists say. New research shows that we humans aren’t as good as we think we are at doing several things at once… As technology allows people to do more tasks at the same time, the myth that we can multitask has never been stronger. But researchers say it’s still a myth — and they have the data to prove it. Humans, they say, don’t do lots of things simultaneously. Instead, we switch our attention from task to task extremely quickly.” And we are warned, ” the consequences are more likely to be stress, a blunder — or maybe a car crash” (Hamilton).
Well, I don’t wish to frighten you away from doing what you have to when you have to do it; but I would suggest, that when you can, try to focus on the one task at hand, whether it be arduous or pleasurable, make the doing the center-stone of your attention. I believe you will feel lifted instead of oppressed. You will face day’s end knowing for certain you did your very best.