Thursday, July 15, 2010
How many windows are open on your computer right now? Are you giving your full attention to any of them? As you read this, is you mind wandering to Facebook? If you are in your office working on a spreadsheet, do you find yourself bopping over to Twitter “just for a sec” to check in? Do you get calls from a co-worker right when you are in the middle of writing a report and open up a new window to respond to his or her question and then try to get back to your report, only to find yourself checking your email along the way? Do you believe you’ll never get everything done unless you eat lunch at your desk? We all do it. It’s called multitasking. But we have the power to overcome it.
Studies have shown that multitasking is not all it’s cracked up to be. The funny thing is that when interviewed, people believe they are more productive when they are juggling several tasks, when in fact multitasking reduces productivity by distracting us. For one reason or another, we have all become proud of our “ability” to multitask, often to the detriment of our work. Even worse, it is affecting how we relate to other people.
A new movement of sorts is beginning to spread: unitasking. It’s not really a new concept, but it’s one that might actually encourage us to better ourselves. The idea is simple: to reduce or eliminate the myriad of distractions that surround us. Of course, the number of tasks that we need to accomplish remains the same, but we approach them from a different perspective. We organize jobs and tackle them in an orderly manner.
Woodworking: the model of unitasking
Woodworking provides us with a perfect opportunity to unitask. For starters, it removes us from one of the biggest sources of distraction: the internet. For the most part, the very nature of building something with wood requires us to proceed in an ordered manner. It’s pretty hard to apply trim to a dresser before building its framework.
And yet, multitasking has become so pervasive, even expected in today’s world that I sometimes try to apply it in the woodshop. For instance, maybe I am faced with a bunch of repetitive cuts and decide to take a break from them and move over to drilling a bunch of holes into which the cut pieces need to fit. While drilling, I start to think it might be a good change of pace to begin routing out some moulding. Oh yeah, I have a TV in my shop and Norm Abram is on. I get drawn into watching “just a few minutes” even though I’ve seen it before. It doesn’t take long to see where this is heading. At the end of the day I haven’t accomplished any one task, but have many unfinished pieces that I will be faced with tomorrow.
If you are like me and are simply tired of trying to do everything at once, take action to improve not just your woodworking, but to seek fulfillment in all of your activities.
Create an email folder for non-essential messages and drag your Aunt Polly’s email into it. In other words, that forwarded email recommending you view the latest funny viral video on YouTube. Or mark it for later reading. This will keep you from aimlessly surfing, until you have finished the stuff you really need to get done. When you have completed everything you have to do, reward yourself by catching up on those dancing hamsters.
Free your inner woodworker
If you encounter a problem, deal with it immediately. It’s probably tied to the task you are working on, so just think of it as part of that same procedure. Try not to put in on the back burner.
Let others know you are prioritizing. People respect honesty and directness when they understand you are engaged. If someone enters your shop with a request for you to do something, (i.e. “Honey, can you mow the lawn?”) politely tell them you will, after you complete the task you are working on. The lawn won’t become a jungle if it has to wait a little while longer. I find it very difficult to get back into a procedure if I stop midway through. I feel like I have to rebuild my momentum.
Of course there will always be times when we must multitask. It’s unavoidable. Obviously professional woodworkers will be faced with time-contraints and be in a more critical environment, but even they can gradually build a unitasking approach. I like to think of unitasking as a technique to strive toward to help us stay focused. It’s similar to woodworking: we know what we want and slowly gain skills that allow us to obtain it.