Multitasking is Overrated

Which is good, because I’m terrible at it.

Multitasking vs Scattered

I always thought I was a great multitasker. When I worked in an office (many moons ago before I realized how much I loved working in pyjamas), people would rush up to my desk, excitedly waving a piece of paper at me, crying,

“Jo! Drop everything! I need you to do this!”

So I would. For the next 5 minutes. Until someone else would rush up, excitedly waving another piece of paper at me, also crying, “Jo! Drop Everything! I need you to do this!”. And so I would.

I felt very important. I was needed. I was being of service. Look how busy and effective I was. Nobody was going to fire me when I was clearly this needed and busy.

A lot of things HALF done

But what that actually meant for someone a bit ADHD like me, is that at the end of the day, I had a lot of very important urgent things, half done.

I was jumping from one thing to the next, without completing anything — or doing anything well. And the next morning, when I’d arrive at my desk and consult my To-Do List, there was still a list of things I hadn’t completed from the day before. And the day before that. And the day before that. Or sometimes worse — completed work that had to be re-done because of a typo.

It started to add up to a lot of things that weren’t done and then I found I was getting flustered and stressed. I didn’t know which one was the most urgent. Which one needed to be done first.

I find it strange when I see job ads looking for a “a great multitasker” because my experience of being “a great multitasker” is spending a lot of energy spinning my wheels on a stationary bike.

Do they all need to be done RIGHT now, really?

I also never had the courage to say, “no” or to even ask “how urgent is this really?”.

Many times, I dropped everything to write client copy that a sales rep assured me was urgent, only to have it sit in my “waiting for final approval” tray for 10 days, until suddenly it was urgent once again.

When I worked on set as a 2nd AD, I had the same problem: I’d get pulled from one thing to another and then the thing I needed to get done for the next day, wouldn’t get done.

When people ask for a multitasker, what they really want is an awesome prioritizer.

Someone who can take whatever urgent tasks are at hand, juggle them into a workable order and deal with them effectively, calmly, efficiently one at a time. This is prioritizing. NOT multitasking.

I had to learn how to become a good prioritizer. Part of it was learning how to ask the right questions. “When do you need this by?”, is the first question and most important question to ask. “Do you really need this tomorrow?”, is usually the next. “I’m tied up with this other project until the end of the week, can I get it to you next week?”, if all else fails and I am actually really, really busy.

Set reasonable expectations

Managing expectations is essential for being able to prioritize. Sometimes, I can’t deliver on time. Recently, I had a serious health issue that put me back a a few weeks. I’d promised a client I’d deliver an outline by the end of the following week, but I lost a few weekdays (one of which I ended up in the ER). So I let them know I was probably going to need a few more days.

They were my biggest client that month, so as soon as I was upright, they became my biggest priority. I might have been back on my feet, but I was still not 100%, I could only do what I could do. Some of my other clients had to wait a little longer.

Every evening before I got to bed, I write a list of stuff to do the next day, then I number them. In the bottom right corner, I write a few things that are not a priority but they’re there so I don’t forget — former clients I need to follow up with, friends I was thinking about who I haven’t reached out to, etc.

Sometimes I get so frustrated by seeing the same thing on the corner of my notepad for a month, that I’ll do it just to cross it off — even if it’s not as urgent as something else. The feeling of relief I get from finally getting it off the list, fuels me into moving on with other stuff.

As the day goes on, some things get added, crossed off or re-ordered. I re-prioritize as necessary. At the end of the day, I write a new list and transfer over what’s still outstanding.

But now my approach is to do one thing at a time. I can’t have my email open while I write. I have to turn Discord off. I’m barely on Facebook anymore (though I should be more because it builds my “brand”). I have to do one thing at a time and what’s in front of me, or else I just spin my wheels or make sloppy mistakes.

It has made me more effective. A better communicator. Better at meeting my clients expectations and getting jobs done for them in a timely manner, to the standard they’re expecting.

It has made me a terrible multitasker. And I’m so grateful.

Writer. Dreamer. Wanderer. Sober and single. Exploring sex, love and mental health. Be part of my journey and join me here:

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