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How I Stopped the Multitasking Madness

One man’s quest to go from manic multitasker to Zen unitasker in one month flat.

By A.J. Jacobs
Man with a brain filled with distractions Christopher Silas Neal

Day 1

Today is my first day without multitasking. I start by taking a shower. That’s it. No NPR on the shower radio. It’s weirdly quiet, just the sound of water splashing into the tub.

Embrace the stillness, I say to myself. Feel the water on my face. My brain is not cooperating. What the hell is going on? it whines. It sounds a lot like my kids in the backseat demanding a DVD. Next I sit at my desk (I work from home) and read a newspaper. That’s all. Without checking my e-mails or eating breakfast at the same time.

This is awful. I feel as if my brain has entered a school zone and has to slow down to 20 miles an hour. My plan is to leave my BlackBerry off till noon. I break down at 11:30.

At lunchtime, Julie (who also works at home) and I are in the kitchen. “Somehow the liquid soap in the bathroom dispenser disappeared,” she says. I stop what I’m doing―making a peanut butter and jam sandwich―and look at her. Must unitask. “So I filled it up with soap from the kitchen. And I was washing my hands with it, and it smelled weird. And I realized I had used dishwasher liquid by accident.” At this point during a conversation, I’m usually doing something else. Picking up stray cups, for example.

“So I bring it back to the kitchen, because I don’t want to waste it. And I’m cleaning the coffeepot…” You know, I’d love to invent contact lenses that have tiny TVs embedded in them. You could be looking straight at your coworker, but little does he know, on the inside of your lenses, you’re enjoying CSI: Miami. “...and the suds won’t go away. I had to wash the coffeepot for five minutes.” I’ve always wanted to learn Braille. That way, I could be having lunch with my boss, making polite noises, while my fingertips read an Andrew Jackson biography underneath the table.


 
 

Day 4

I’ve got to do something about my desk. This is where most of my crimes against focus occur. There are so many temptations: snacks, cups of water, caffeine. I pop up from my desk once every five minutes. So I decide to engage in some light bondage. I take a long extension cord and tie myself to the gray Aeron chair in front of my computer. I knot it five times in my lap. It feels kind of safe, like a seat belt.

Five minutes later, I think of adjusting the lamp, since the bulb is spotlighting my face like I am about to sing a solo in A Chorus Line. But then I would have to unknot the cord and get up. I keep my bottom in the chair and return to my computer. It’s working!

“A. J.!” Julie wants something.

“What’s up?” I start untying myself.

She opens the door to my office and catches me fiddling with the cord. She furrows her brow. She looks at my computer to see if I’m signed on to a site that requires you to be at least 18 years of age.

“It’s for my project.”

She frowns and backs out of the room.

If you can take the skeptical looks, I strongly recommend tying yourself down. I finished a ton of work in the last two hours.

It helps that I’m blocking out the always tempting siren call of the Internet. I will not be checking the Hasbro website to see how many marbles we’re supposed to have in our Hungry Hungry Hippos game. Which could lead to an animated YouTube movie of the Green Hungry Hungry Hippo singing “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Which might lead to yet another YouTube viewing of the “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene from Wayne’s World.

Well, I won’t do it again.

 

 
Read More About:Time Management

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