Juggling Tasks Works Great – Sometimes

I don’t use a cell phone. I do own one – candy bar style with a green/grey screen that I’ve invested many dollars into just keeping its minutes alive. I’ve used it maybe five times, tops, since I bought it, sometime around the turn of the century. Its only real purpose is for an emergency “manual On Star-type service” like when a deer suddenly pops into view, standing motionless in the middle of the dark, icy road, glaring into my headlights and I swerve into the snow bank. My husband is the only one who knows the number, and he calls only when I’m running late during a horrific storm to check if he should start searching for an unconscious wife in a roadside ditch. Other than that, considering I rarely leave the house, I have no real need for a cell phone.

But I admit, being that I try to make the best use of anything I have, when I first got my cell phone I gave the mobile life a try.  I had thought it would be somewhat freeing, letting me go out and about, so one day, I set the land line to forward incoming calls to the cell while I was away to gather a few groceries. Then, as I was digging through the produce section for chili fixin’s – the purpose of my mission – my purse began to loudly sing, “My Bonnie lies over the ocean ….” Oh, why hadn’t I put the ring tone on a nice quiet ding?!!  Frantically, I dug through my faux-leather bag that has a “personality” of the Bermuda Triangle and saw my own land line number in the Caller ID. Drat! No such luck that the caller’s number would also forward. But forgetting I could shut it off and wanting to stop the pitchy tunage, so as not to disturb the baby in a nearby cart who was sleeping while its mother dug through the potatoes, my immediate maternal reaction was to answer.

One of my clients wanted a new revision on an old design – a very old design that had been archived for at least three years. Trying to focus, I used my hip to keep pushing my basket out of the path of aggravated fellow shoppers, continuing the conversation with my finger in one ear and phone up to the other, while calculating the cost of changes necessary on a design that I couldn’t see, much less clearly recall. I came home with a bag of groceries that included four mangos (not on my list), no peppers or onions (can’t make chili without them) and absolutely no idea what I had to revise on the design. Fortunately, I had asked the client to e-mail instructions, after struggling to jot notes – something she had planned to do anyhow, had I not answered the phone. While putting away the groceries, I wondered about the complexity of work I’d just agreed to that had to be done by the morning. So, off I dashed to boot up the computers and started digging through the CDs of archives – totally spacing out the gallon of milk in the trunk.

I’m just not good at multitasking – never will be, don’t want to be, and evidently, no one can be even if they tried. A 2001 report of a study by the American Psychological Association states that people aren’t really multitasking; they’re simply turning on one activity and turning off the other. People have learned to do this smoothly, the article explains, by way of “’executive control” [that] involves two distinct, complementary stages: goal shifting (“I want to do this now instead of that“) and rule activation (“I’m turning off the rules for that and turning on the rules for this“). Both stages help people unconsciously switch between tasks.’”  The report also points out that it actually takes longer for a human to accomplish tasks when trying to do more than one thing at a time. Total agreement here, according to every attempt I’ve ever made!  But very often there are numerous same-day deadlines to meet, so giving it a shot is the only possibility of accomplishing most tasks on time. Because this multitask madness is fairly typical in the life of a digitizer, I’ve found that it is possible to achieve – it’s just a matter of juggling.

The trick is to combine tasks that are compatible, which then allows shifting gears quickly – to toss the apple up so it’s possible to transfer the lemon to the launch hand, to then catch the orange with the other hand, and all the while keeping the process rotating at a smooth rolling rhythm.

My day consists of a variety of tasks required of any business; albeit, on a much smaller scale, I must do everything. And of course there’s the many personal interests and domestic duties that demand time. So, I often juggle, but find it’s only successful when I’m working with compatible tasksFor example, I can test new features of I-Cliqq digitizing software  while digitizing a custom order, test new stabilizers for industry inventor/consultant Fred Lebow while sewing a sample of the finished design, and I can prepare information to help profile that same custom order in my “Punching Sense” column for Stitches Magazine.  But when the phone rings – a task so-o-o not compatible with digitizing – I let it go to voice mail. If I answered the call, the conversation would interrupt my focus and toss the rhythm into a tail spin. And then after the call, trying to remember just where I was in the project would cost time designated for domestic duties like cooking. Of course, occasionally Caller I.D. demands that I take a call I’ve been waiting for, and those are usually the days that I call my husband to bring home deli chicken for supper. (His cell phone is the only one that I ever really need.)

Yesterday, I decided to juggle the tasks of making the potato salad for the holiday weekend along with writing this blog – an unlikely compatible duo – but I’d given this a lot of thought and saw no reason why it couldn’t work. After all, there’s plenty of downtime while the eggs and potatoes are boiling and cooling. Certainly, I could get a first draft sketched out – right?  Well, I did manage to get the post off to a good start and then, after all had cooled, I proceeded to finish the potato salad. As I peeled skins and shells, I began working out the perfect conclusion to this post, and by the time I started chopping the onions, I knew exactly what I wanted to say. Yep, things were juggling along at a nice smooth rhythm. I only needed to sit down at the laptop to let my fingers do the talking.  And then, plop – the apple hit the ground.  I had looked up from the chopping board to see my son’s bright smile walking through the front door – the orange hit the ground and the lemon followed – and my brilliant muse instantly dissolved, tucking back into the recesses of my mind to wait and arise another day.

Sometimes, no matter how many tasks are facing a pressing deadline, mixing up a bowl of potato salad and sharing conversation with a loved one are the only things worth juggling.  Hope you all are having a wonderful July 4th weekend!   🙂

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3 thoughts on “Juggling Tasks Works Great – Sometimes

  1. I’m with you Bonnie. I have a cell phone, but rarely answer it when I’m doing something else. I couldn’t grocery shop and talk on the phone, half the time I forget what I went for when I am giving it my total attention.

    So, far I’m loving this blog. Please do keep writing.

    • Thanks Kristine! So far I’m enjoying writing it – with the exception of trying to find a slot to juggle it into. 😉

  2. Pingback: The Friday Blog Round-Up 7/8/11 » EnMart Embroidery Talk

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