When the right thing is doing one thing

At the risk of sounding eccentric, can I just place on record how little I love the word ‘multitasking’?

We have IBM to thank for it, for it was in a paper published by the computer giant fifty years ago that the word first appeared.

Back in 1965 IBM used it to describe the way in which a computer might handle more than one job at a time, an idea rather novel at the time. I admit this was probably rather big and rather clever.

Now, however, we also use the word to celebrate humans’ ability to do several things at once.

We think this is rather clever too.


But I wonder. You see, psychology experiments have shown that although we are indeed able to juggle several balls at once, we tend to make a better job of tasks when we take them sequentially, something my own experience bears out.

Of course life has a tendency to throw a lot of stuff at you simultaneously, so you’ll probably find yourself having to switch from one thing to another, demanding though this may be.

What I’m going to strongly recommend right now, though, is that you avoid doing what I very nearly did this morning.

I was taking a short break, and believe it or not began to ‘multitask’ (YUCK).

Can you believe it? I sat down for a coffee and was pulling out a notebook when I suddenly realised what I was doing.

Oi Jon! No! Putting away the notebook, I had to force myself to sit back and enjoy the moment, single-mindedly.

Savour the taste of the coffee. Listen to the chirping birds (and before you accuse me of hallucinating as well as being eccentric, I was sitting outside).

Just stop. Let go of the urge to overfill every single minute.

And I wonder if you might join me in this mission today? It is OK, you know, to do just one thing. At. A. Time.

Even (especially) if that thing is resting.

9 thoughts on “When the right thing is doing one thing

  1. Ha! ha! I was reading this, eating my breakfast and planning my next job, all at the same time. No wonder I’m feeling slightly “wired”!

    1. That’s funny Fionna. I certainly know that feeling. It’s surprisingly hard to stop yourself trying to do lots of things at once, but surprisingly good.

  2. Oh dear! This is my biggest failing. I find it really hard to just sit and do one thing at a time. I just cannot sit still; I’m up and down like a yo-yo!

    I will put this post somewhere prominent and take it as a personal challenge for the week to try!

  3. Too right, Jon!
    Nearly all the time most of us just do something else whilst doing one thing! My husband plays solitaire whilst ‘watching’ the TV; I crochet and sometimes do it whilst watching tv; I find it hard not to just sit and relax…as I will feel guilty and probably fall asleep!!!

  4. Yes, Jon, this is so true. Mindfulness, simply being in the moment, focusing on one task, one object, is a real challenge for me. As a child I was told, “Make your head save your heels”, in order words, the more things you do at once, the better! Overcoming this impulse is not just a mission for a day, I think, but at least it’s a start.

    1. I’ve never heard that one Helen. ‘Make your head save your heels’. You’re so right about introducing changes for yourself gradually, rather than all at once.

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