Are you good at doing more than one thing at a time? Would you consider yourself a multitasker? These are questions so common in job interviews today, but are they missing the mark? Sure, it’s important to be able to juggle, but that’s all it is. Juggling. No one can actually do two things at once. Research has shown that multitasking is really just making your brain switch back and forth frequently between two or more functions. And it’s not able to do it as efficiently as we once thought.
Each time we switch tasks, there’s a micro-lag in the brain (or in my case just a lag) between stopping what you were doing before and starting the new thing. Now, a micro-lag doesn’t sound so bad, and it’s not…as a singular pause. But the reality of how we work, play, and create today is that we make our poor brains switch tasks several times per hour. That translates into a constant feeling similar to when we go to a room and then think to ourselves, “What in the world did I come in here to do?” (I have those moments at least once a week!)So I think the better question for job interviews-and life in general- is “How good are you at finishing tasks?”
Our brains and bodies function together through automatic processes. Those are things we’ve learned to do so well that we don’t have to manually think about it. We can drive while having a conversation, because our brain can tell our bodies what to do in that situation without any conscious effort on our part. But when we get too many irons in the fire, our brain gets bogged down and we can’t even do those automatic things very well. That’s when you get into situations where you put the coffee pot into the fridge instead of back on the burner. (Why yes, I have done that before!) Or we lose our keys because instead of putting them in the normal spot, we carry them to the next place we went and sat them down there.
So what’s this got to do with sewing and creative work? Don’t artists work this way naturally? A resounding YES! Which is why we need to be extra careful not to fall into the trap of thinking we’re being effective when we’re really just busy. This subject comes up so often for me that I’m sure I’ll post more about it, but for right now I want you guys to think about how it affects your life. Do you ever leave tasks unfinished because you were trying to multitask and got wrapped up in the next thing? Do you have problems finishing projects, but no problem at all starting new ones? If you struggle with this stuff, what can you do about it?
1) Recognize what pushes your buttons.
What things tend to stress you out so you can’t focus as well? Lack of sleep? Loud noise? Not enough noise?
2) Recognize the things that distract you.
Um, let’s tell it like it is, people. If you’re irrevocably bonded with your phone and your heart would die if you turned it off, you’re gonna get distracted by it. Some people get distracted by new projects and ideas. (Such a common obstacle for the creative mind!)
3) Organize your space.
It’s so easy to get distracted when your work space is a mess and you have 4 or 5 projects lying around. There’s a time for everything. When you’re trying to come up with ideas is when you get everything out and surround yourself with fabrics and colors and pictures for inspiration. But if you’re creative, you can’t turn it off, so put that crap up when you’re working or your mind will be racing with new ideas every time you look at something that inspires you.
4) Pick a project and stick with it.
Not necessarily to the end. I’m not a sadist. I won’t make you do that. But it is wise to block out a certain amount of time for a project. Or set a goal of how far you want to go on it. (And I know you won’t be realistic about this, so maybe back that goal off a few steps so you won’t be disappointed.)
5) Know you won’t get everything done in one day.
This is the most impacting realization that I’ve made lately. I used to plan my day and try to cram a little of everything in. Logistically, it makes the most sense. Do one thing for 20 minutes, another for an hour, exercise for 30 minutes in between. But artistic people don’t work like that. What do we do once we get started on a project? Say it with me, “WE DON’T STOP!” Once you’ve made your peace with the fact that it’s hard to turn it off once you get wrapped up in a project, you can plan your life in a way that works for you. I have each day of the week labeled for a particular focus. (EX. Patternmaking on Tuesdays) And it has helped tremendously.
6) Remember your work.
We can get stuck in the trap of thinking we’ll never finish all the projects we’re juggling or getting down on ourselves when we’re in a tricky phase of a particular project. When this happens, CODE RED! Stop being a Negative Nelly and go look at some of your previous work. Remind yourself you’re perfectly capable of finishing and making beautiful stuff. You’ve gone through rough patches before and you can make it through this one if you just keep going. Don’t fool yourself into thinking it would be better to start a new project. Sure, that’s more appealing to our lightning fast visionary minds, but that project’s gonna have its hard parts, too.
The Real Moral of The Story Is:
FINISH WHAT YOU START…EVEN IF YOU KIND OF WANT TO THROW IT OUT THE WINDOW.(LIKE THE STUPID LINGERIE SET I’M WORKING ON.) It’ll get better…You can do it.