This may not be directly related to the topic of Chinese New Year Spring Cleaning, but it is apparent that as Chinese New Year approaches, most of us are trying our best to really multi-task – doing a few certain tasks (for example; clearing work emails, home spring cleaning, new year shopping, baby-sitting etc) all at the same time so that they are completed before specific deadlines hoping that we will then have time to take a breather; or to impress others that we are really efficient.
Come to think about it, we are just mere ordinary mortals. We are not robots. Why must we create stress for ourselves? When there just aren’t enough hours in the day to juggle job, family, friends and the household chores, don’t you agree that we should all ourselves a big favour and stop trying so hard?
In between holding down a couple of jobs, wiping runny noses, sitting on a handful of committees, trying to look passably well-groomed and attempting to complete my tasks within deadlines, I occasionally find moments for a brief e-mail exchange or MSN online conversations with friends.
Whether we call ourselves jugglers or multi-taskers, the more we manage to do at once, the more we congratulate ourselves for being so efficient. We iron with a phone tucked under our chin. Grab a sandwich and eat it while working. Yeah, the list of such behaviour goes on.
“Multi-tasking” was a phrase first minted (in Silicon Valley) to describe computers which could run more than one program at the same time. But in the 21st century today, we’ve all become human multi-taskers. Employers today emphasize a lot on the merits and importance of multi-tasking (Yeah yah, due to cutting down on hiring costs. One employee is now assigned doing the work of two or three employees at the same time.)
And, no question, yes, perhaps I have to agree that women are better at it than men. Studies have shown that women use both hemispheres of the brain – while we men tend to use one, so men are more “compartmentalised”, tends to focus on just one thing at a time.
Bestselling “I Don’t Know How She Does It” author Allison Pearson sums it up: “We’re wired differently. It must be something to do with Early Woman being a gatherer – needing to pick berries while keeping an ear out for the kids and planning what we’re going to have for dinner at that cave party a week from Tuesday.”
However, recent research suggests that multi-tasking might be bad for our memories and our wellbeing. The stress of doing too many things at once can not only strain the brain, but set us up for a raft of physical problems, too.
Dr David Meyer, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan who specialises in cognition and perception, insists, “Chronic multitasking over the years poses a strong risk for ultimate brain damage. As we force ourselves to bounce from task to task, we generate stress. Body and mind gear up to cope by releasing adrenaline. This powerful medicine is good for a crisis – but on an ongoing basis, it’s hard on the brain and body.”
You see, stress hormones divert energy from the part of our brain that forms memory (including the hippocampus) to the parts of the body needed for the “fight-or-flight” response. Long-term, this stress can lead to permanent shrinkage of the hippocampus. What’s more, Dr Meyer observed that multi-taskers tend to lose the ability to concentrate.
According to Dr Marcel Just, who is doing research on ageing at Carnegie Mellon University in the United States, he said, “This is because there is only so much mental capacity to go around. If you run too many programs at once on a computer, the computer tends to crash.”
Multi-taskers also tend to sleep badly, which not only impacts on our immune system, but can also increase the likelihood of other stress-related health problems like heart disease. Didn’t health reports cite the point that staying up late into the night, is bad for our health?
Maybe for this Chinese New Year, it is time for us all to reclaim the idea of mono-tasking, that quaint idea of doing just one thing at a time. It might just turn out to save our health, wellbeing and our relationships. (And I might get to spend more time physically with my best friends, instead of sitting in front of the computer typing messages to him or her at 5am).
HOW TO UN-MULTITASK??
Not all multi-taskers are created equal, so if you want to detox your tasking routine, it helps if you take a customised approach. Make one small change at a time. If you give up multi-tasking completely, you’ll be on overload again before you know it.
The Culture Vulture
So much to read (and watch, and listen to) – and so little time. You skim through the newspapers while watching “Desperate Housewives” and beside your bed is a teetering pile of Sunday supplements and mail-order catalogues that you only really attend to when it avalanches to the floor.
Ask yourself – Will the world be any different if you buy only just one Straits Times newspaper? Each morning, earmark one or two TV programmes that you’d really like to watch that day and have a long, indulgent chat with a close friend rather than squeeze him or her in while channel-surfing. 😀
The Office Juggler
You pride yourself on being able to cope with whatever your day (or boss) throws at you – but in reality, projects pile up and only get finished when there’s a deadline. You probably also have the tendency to get in early and stay up late too, just to keep on top of your e-mails.
First, clear your desk so that it’s easier to focus on each project. (A carefully-labelled hanging file under your desk is better than a mountain of folders.) Block out periods of time to work on specific projects.
Never go more than 90 minutes without a break because your brain needs time to recharge. Set aside 15-minute chunks, a few times a day, to deal with e-mail, rather than keeping it permanently open – and get a spam filter, so that you will not spend time deleting irrelevant information.
The Domestic Perfectionist
You bend over backwards to make sure that your home looks like something out of one of those glossy homes magazines you subscribe to. You have a pile of vintage curtains just waiting to be turned into gorgeous cushions, and spend hours spritzing your linen with lavender water. But there are piles of things behind the sofa because you never quite finish tidying one space before moving on to the next – and oh no, that mountain of ironing just keeps getting higher.
Oh please. You should always remind yourself this — those gorgeous-looking homes in magazines don’t look like that for more than about 5 minutes!
(It takes a stylist and much grooming to get camera-ready, and invariably, just out of shot, there’s a vast pile of junk. You just don’t see it. If not, the entire home is inhabited by aliens!)
Therefore, please go slow down, relax, take a breath and ask yourself: Which is more important, a perfect home, or health and happiness?
You buy less things, so there is less to tidy. Doesn’t it make sense for Chinese New Year Spring Cleaning?
Make an effort to fold clothes when they’re straight out of the drier, so as to save time at the ironing board. And why not pay someone to make those pretty little cushions for you? 🙂