How multitasking cost me $1000

In some corner of the world, you can buy a $1000.00 glass of champagne.  On August 20, 2014, I drank from a $1000.00 glass of iced tea.

I didn't directly pay that much for my tea - I actually brewed it myself in my home kitchen.  I paid indirectly because that cool drink on a Wednesday morning cost me a hot sticker price when I decided to multitask.

I am usually a stickler for doing one thing at a time.  My 5-year old is well aware of this established boundary - "mommy can only do one thing at a time".  I know I say that once or ten times a day.

I started my professional life in 2000 and it didn't take me long to realize that multitasking invited more problems than it solved.  Checking e-mail and talking on the phone - your brain can't process both at the same time; for each second you are either focused on one or the other. 

Not all multitasking is futile - but whatever the mindless task you have added to your current task is probably taking longer than if you focused on it 100%.  For example, talking a phone call while filing away paperwork.  If you just filed the paperwork by itself, it would take less time.  Sure, it is boring, but you can fun it up by putting on music or making a game out of it.

Even non-work multitasking like talking on the phone and putting away the dishes create problems.  The dishes would be put away quicker if you just did that and it wouldn't offend your friend on the phone who thinks your dishes are on the same level of importance as your friendship. 

When I started law school, my son was 7 weeks old.  I didn't even try to multitask being a mom and being a law student.  Well, I didn't try for very long.  The weekend before classes started, I was wearing my baby in a Moby Wrap - a cloth front-facing baby backpack.  He was sound asleep on my chest so I grabbed my Civil Procedure book and proceeded to read the assigned 50 pages.  48 of those written by the author, 2 pages were Pennoyer v. Neff.  It wasn't challenging to read but it took me 3 hours because I had to sit very still and it was difficult to write notes or highlight because of the baby bundle between me and the textbook.

Law school was great practice for the working world.  I was either a student first or a mom first.  Mixing the two at the same time was messy.  Every time I tried, it took very little time to realize how quickly it gets messy.  It didn't mean I was inflexible - I just planned my schedule to do one or the other unless there was an emergency.  Five years later, I take the same approach.

I am not envious of multitaskers - I'm judgmental.  You cannot do two things well.  One of them is getting a mediocre result.  I've actually said to clients and colleagues, "I can't multitask - let me do this first, then let's talk".  It is a great way to establish boundaries and manage your stress.

Getting back to the iced tea incident.  I didn't think I was multitasking.  Taking a drink while reading a document didn't appear to have dire consequences.  Here is the 30-second story.  I was at my standing desk working from home.  I was mentally closing up shop to relocate to my downtown office.  I was proofreading the final version of a document and grabbed my iced tea with my right hand.  While my eyes were focused on my work, my brain wasn't focused on my hand.  The bottom of my glass caught the corner of my standing desk and *SPLAT*!!!  Iced tea covered my MacBook Air keyboard.

There was no way to save it - the small gaps under the keys made a passage for the tea to get to the electronics.  My Mac was fried.  

I bought my laptop less than a year ago and it has been very good to me.  When I say go - it goes.  When I say open - it opens.  When I switch and close and save programs - it doesn't make me wait.  I had to replace it with another Mac - my business and my sanity depended on it.

I didn't lose any data - that was the good news.  There was nothing on the computer hard drive that I needed to restore.  I had everything backed up and all of my software is password protected online subscriptions.  

I did lose 8 hours of my regular workday which meant I made no money that day and had to replace the laptop.  The total cost was probably more than $1000.00 when considering lost wages, but dealing with that calculation just made me sad so I didn't run the numbers.

When something catastrophic happens, hindsight is 20/20.  The reason I placed blame on multitasking for the "iced tea incident" is that if my eyes had been on my drink from sip to set-down, I wouldn't have killed my computer.  

May she rest in peace.

Hope Wood