Ever since computers became basic staples at home and the office there is a lot of talk about multitasking. The gist of it is that multitasking is a good thing since we are able to accomplish more in a specific period of time. I struggle with multitasking. I’ve concluded that I don’t do it well. So imagine my reaction when I began reading a new book titled The ONE Thing (not to be confused with One Direction’s song by a similar title). It has a whole chapter on multitasking which I read with great interest.
The premise of the book is that if you want to truly be effective, then you need to identify what ONE Thing will make the most impact each day and then prioritize it so it gets done. The chapter on multitasking basically says that “multitasking is a lie” (p 44). It is “neither efficient nor effective.” Instead, it is merely an opportunity to mess up more than one thing at a time.
Did you know that psychologists have been studying the idea of doing more than one thing at a time since the 1920s? The word “multitasking” wasn’t invented yet but the concept was active. Multitasking was originally used to describe computers. It refers to a computer’s ability to use its single CPU to alternative between multiple tasks. Computers alternate so quickly that it appears that more than one task is being done at once. Over time “multitasking” has been redefined to refer to one person doing multiple tasks simultaneously. Computers, because of the speed at which they operate can pull it off. People fail miserably at it.
While people can do two things at once, like walk and chew gum, we cannot do two things that require any focus at the same time. (I started to type sing and clap but I cannot do both at the same time. My clapping quickly gets out of rhythm, and I insert the wrong words into the song. I can mess up two things at one time but I don’t think that is the intended idea behind multitasking.) Studies show that when we do more than one thing at a time our attention jumps back and forth and we end up focusing on neither task. I believe that is what the term “accident” refers to.
Listen to this: “Researchers estimate that workers are interrupted every 11 minutes and then spend almost a third of their day recovering from these distractions” (p 46). Wow, in a normal day we spend over 2.5 hours recovering from distractions. Ever wish you had more time in a day? Stop multitasking and immediately add 2.5 hours to your day!
Authors Keller and Papasan declare, “Multitasking is a scam.” Then they quote Poet laureate Billy Collins who said, “We call it multitasking, which makes it sound like an ability to do lots of things at the same time… A Buddhist would call this monkey mind” (p 46-47).
What does this have to do with pastors and ministry? Jesus calls us to be good stewards. That includes being good stewards of our time. The Bible says a lot about time. In Mark 6 Jesus ushered his disciples away from the crowd after a busy day of ministry to demonstrate how important it was to spend time with God. Not multitasking in God’s presence but being focused on the ONE thing – God. (By the way, God can multitask with ease. How else could He hear and respond to millions – even billions – of people praying at the same time?)
Ephesians 5:16 talks about “redeeming the time.” Research indicates that multitasking is a guaranteed way of wasting time. It results in us doing less and doing less less effectively. (I know I wasn’t supposed to use “less” back to back in that sentence, but I couldn’t resist. Besides, I am checking email, texting and eating a Hershey’s kiss as I write this article.)
Did you know that we have an average of 4,000 thoughts a day? If you break that down, we have a new thought every 14 seconds. Can you say “ADHD”? (I know some people who have a new thought every second…at least it seems that way.) Though I haven’t researched this, I suspect people who multitask have more like 8-12K thoughts a day.
Focus occurs in the prefrontal cortex. So when we focus on ONE thing, we are concentrating our minds on a single task. Trying to focus on TWO things at the same time distracts the prefrontal cortex and creates mental noise.
Did you know that people who use computers on their job “change windows or check email or other programs nearly 37 times an hour”? (p 51) I sure don’t want to listen to a sermon written by a pastor who was distracted pretty much the entire time she or he was writing it. Do you? Do you want to preach that kind of sermon? Would you want your doctor doing surgery on you while he was multitasking? Isn’t teaching God’s Word at least as important as surgery?
Here’s my challenge to you: How can you minimize interruptions without handicapping your ministry? Better yet: what is the One Thing you can do each day to manage interruptions/distractions so that you are able to do what God wants you do?
Yes, I realize that some interruptions are divine interruptions where God is wanting to use us to accomplish His purposes in someone else’s life. Now, how many of your daily interruptions are really divine? Aren’t most of the interruptions caused by trying to multitask? So, what do you need to do to redeem the time? Or you can just ignore what I am saying and be happy with a monkey mind.