If you've chosen to read this article, it's likely you're someone who is struggling to juggle a lot of personal and professional responsibilities. Like you, I struggle with the same thing and although I've coached others who are looking for helpful advice, I know it's a battle I'll never win completely. Ironically, as I write this week's column, I am sitting in a laundromat waiting for my family's laundry to finish. Although we have our own washer and dryer at home, I've become so backed up from many long days and nights of working that I fear my own machines would explode from the excessive loads we've accumulated. Did I mention I am also toggling back and forth between responding to work emails and texts?
Every column I write is inspired by something I've encountered through my profession as a management and training consultant. This week, I've struggled upon what to write about because I've been "too busy" to think about it. Then it hit me; being "too busy" was the perfect inspiration and my multitasking topic was born. In truth, I am no multitasking expert, but I am hoping some of the secrets I've discovered will help you navigate through the maze of life as a busy professional.
The first secret I've discovered is one you may not expect because it contradicts everything we think we know about multitasking. Here it is: being a strong multi-tasker is really about learning how to effectively single-task. Although it may sound crazy, it has proven true to me. Here is what I mean. Think about times in your life when you have everything coming at you at once. You have work deadlines to meet, emails to respond to, customers and employees who need you "right away", bills to pay, mail to sort through, children to taxi around for after-school activities, and a house to maintain.
If you actually try and take in everything on your "must do now" list you probably become nauseous with anxiety and incapable of actually completing anything. However, if you stop, take a deep breath, and focus on trying to be 100 percent engaged in each moment you spend on one of those particular items, you will be well on your way to becoming an effective single-tasker. Single-tasking is about living in the moment. It's about pushing the other "stuff" out of your mind and giving your full attentiveness to whatever you have in front of you in each moment. Think of it as wearing different hats. Undoubtedly, this is easy to say, hard to do, but well worth trying to incorporate into your busy life.
The second secret I've discovered is that you must let go of your desire for perfection. In truth, this is something I didn't realize until after my husband and I had our third child. Prior to our daughter's birth, I would brag about keeping a "perfectly" clean house, and "never missing a work deadline." I was also proud of the fact that I'd "never say no" to any professional opportunity that came my way. I thought I was an example of a perfect mother, wife and employee.
Outwardly, this may have appeared to be true, but inside I was miserable. I was going to bed later and later to keep up with work I brought home from the office. I was waking up so early that some would consider it to be the middle of the night in order to scrub my floors and keep up on laundry. The thing that was suffering most was what should've been most important of all; my family and myself. Then I had an epiphany. It is impossible to truly "have it all" in terms of perfection at work and home. Letting go of these self-imposed, black and white "rules" is actually counterproductive to doing anything truly well. Once I realized it's ok to have a few crumbs on the kitchen floor, and that staying silent at work when an opportunity to volunteer for a new project came about didn't make me a failure, I suddenly noticed a better end result in what I did choose to work on.
I could definitely share more about this topic, but I must change hats and shift gears. The dryer alarm is sounding and duty calls. I wish you luck as you strive to practice being in the moment and being kind to yourself this week.
Elizabeth P. Cipolla is a regional director and senior consultant with JL Nick and Associates Inc. She is a business communications professional specializing in the areas of leadership training, creative recruitment strategies, employment branding, professional development and executive coaching for nearly 15 years. Her leadership experience comes from various industries including marketing, mass media, apparel, education, manufacturing, nonprofit agencies and insurance. To contact Elizabeth, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit JL Nick and Associates' website at www.jlnick.com.