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If I Don’t Look Busy, It’s Because I Did It Right The First Time.

If you’ve been around here for any significant length of time, you’re probably well aware that multitasking isn’t exactly a strength of mine. It’s certainly not a skill I’d highlight on my resume, and the truth is that you’d be hard pressed to convince me that it’s something that even should be highlighted on a resume.

The thing is, it seems like I see more and more people every day complaining about how busy they are. About how there’s never enough time to get anything done. And it’s true — some people just overload their plates until it’s actually physically impossible to add even another crumb of obligation. I feel this way often. But if I’m really honest with myself — something usually only achieved with copious amounts of alone time combined with cheap red table wine — I waste a lot of time interrupting my productivity stream with mundane distractions that I label as “multitasking” to make myself feel better.

And I’m willing to bet that you do the same thing.


Why Multitasking Is Good For Kegels But Bad For Credibility:

Basically, if you’re saying you’re good at multitasking, you’re claiming that you’re really super adept at not focusing on the task at-hand. You might as well say, “Concentration? What’s that? I’m all over the place, brotha. I’m like a Jedi — all places at once. I’m cooking dinner, connecting on Facebook, lamenting on how needy Olivia Pope has gotten in Scandal, ordering Christmas presents, doing my Kegels, and pretty much happy doing a crappy job at all of it because I’m not really paying attention to any of it.”

And don’t get me wrong — that’s like… a regular Thursday night for me. I multitask every day. It’s why my Kegels could beat your Kegels in a fistfight.

(I kid.)

But you’re never going to catch me bragging about being good at multitasking.

That’s like bragging about being good at getting speeding tickets or being good at picking fights. It’s not generally something you should want to do. Multitasking is the Boy Scout who knocks nests from trees before rescuing the baby birds to earn his merit badge. It’s an act — a rouse — a shameful, ineffective workflow disguised as a best management practice and shining resume bullet point, and I’m here to call it out for what it really is: one big, fat excuse to procrastinate. Because think about it. If you’re so busy doing everything all of the time, how can you ever get anything done? Or, more important, how can you get it done well?


How to Change the Way You Think About Multitasking:

The nemesis of multitasking is efficiency.



At its core, your efficiency is the amount of work you manage to accomplish in relation to the amount of time and energy you spend doing it.

The faster you’re able to finish something, the faster you can move on to something else. Also, if you took the time to only focus on that one task, the more assurance you have that it was done correctly. Every time you interrupt a job to “multitask” and work on something else, you end up having to spend a certain amount of time re-focusing on what it was you were trying to do in the first place. It’s incredibly inefficient.

And okay. You don’t have to be efficient at everything. If it takes you 45 minutes to pay the bills because you were simultaneously painting your toenails while phone counseling your little sister through the personal satisfaction versus the ethical dilemma of setting her condescending boss up for failure, maybe that’s fine because these are things that needed to happen, but they didn’t need to happen with any amount of earnestness.

But then there are the things in your life that do need to get done. Like writing that novel. Or editing that resume. Or finishing that job a trusting individual is paying you to do. And these things need to get done well because they’re important to you or important to someone who’s important to you, and not completing them in a respectable amount of time with a high level of professionalism will make you a failure. And it’s at this point, guys, where you have a choice —

You can turn off all of the other noise in your life and just finish this thing, OR, you can multitask.


This is Why You’re Not Efficient Already:

Of course, there’s one other big factor besides your own lack of willpower and inclination to procrastinate working against you here.

If there’s one thing I’ve retrospectively noticed about the workplace, at least in my experience, since I started working for myself, it’s that efficiency is rarely rewarded. Especially in an office environment. Instead, what’s important is that you’re busy. If you look like you’re working hard, then you must be a hard worker. It’s how we’re trained.

But think about that for a second.

I can look like I’m working hard while simultaneously typing a blog post, flipping through Facebook, ordering Christmas gifts, and checking my email. But is that really when I’m getting the most work done?

Um, no.

And it wasn’t until I started working for myself from home — a place filled with all kinds of wonderful distractions like Netflix and uncensored internet access and a refrigerator full of last night’s leftovers — that I realized it. I’ve been trained to look like I’m working really hard, while only working hard enough to meet the status quo.

The thing is, though, if I applied my personal blog post writing work ethic to my professional freelance work ethic, no one would pay me to do what I do. As a contract virtual assistant, efficiency is key. My clients pay me hourly, so if I take too long to do my job, they’d find someone who’s more efficient. They don’t see me every day, typing away with unwashed hair and holes in my sweatpants. They don’t care if I look busy. They just want results. And when they see those results, I’m often rewarded in the long-term by way of praise, bonuses, references, and a general sense of accomplishment. By not wasting my time, I don’t waste theirs. It’s a win-win for everyone.

But it’s often difficult for people to get to that point — especially in a corporate setting — because the short-term recognition of looking busy often takes precedence over the long-term benefits of just doing a job right the first time.


Here’s what we need to change:

The belief that appearances are more important than results. That multitasking is good. That efficiency is measured in direct correlation with how frazzled you look and how difficult it was to get there. Because here’s the thing — multitasking takes a straightforward objective and turns it into a rigmarole of side-steps and hoops and unnecessary complications that, in the end, can only make you look — and feel — a hell of a lot worse.

And no one wants to feel worse.

Especially when it takes twelve extra steps to get there.


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Can I get a hallelujah? I too get way too distracted when writing for myself ( said while wearing sweaty gym cloths with 3 other tabs open).


There has GOT to be an app that keeps you from opening other tabs while you’re working. I’m just not sure I want to find it. ;)

Britany Robinson

Ugh. This is something I SO need to get better at. Let’s see… I have 12 windows open right now. TWELVE. And when a window is taking too long to load, I look at my phone. It’s seriously a disease.

Offices definitely perpetuate this idea that multi-tasking means working hard. But I think I originally caught this disease as a server/bartender when managers would drive this “LOOK BUSY!” mentality into my head all the time. If there were no customers to wait on, then you better be scrubbing a perfectly clean table just to avoid being yelled at for standing around. But oh hey… what if I did all of those little chores already? Doesn’t matter. Look busy.

It’s twisted. Thanks for the reminder to continually try to force these multitasking habits out of my work process.


I have 14 tabs, which I’d say is about average for me. And the phone thing? Yeah. I feel you. And you’re right — I probably first “caught” it waiting tables, but I think it’s used as more of a reward method in an office setting. It’s sooo dumb. Anyway, get busy — for real — with that novel, already! ;)


Ha, don’t we all?!


i’m awful at multi-tasking! i think i also have a bit of ADD.. so once i’m off doing another thing.. i’ll completely forget about the first. for me to work well … i need to shut down all 100 of my browser windows and have only one thing open. :P


I think that’s one reason I have so many browser tabs open — so I don’t forget what I was working on an hour earlier! :)

Colleen Brynn

Hell yeah.
For me, personally, I’m actually probably my most productive (in an office or professional setting) when I’m actually just sitting there thinking. That is when I organize my thoughts, brainstorm, prioritize, prepare. But that is precisely what drives the manager/boss to think I am lazy! Meanwhile, I think I am just more efficient, and when I get that time to my thoughts, I’m much better off!
I had to master the art of looking busy in India where I volunteered. Often, there wasn’t anything for me to do (because I was FINISHED class planning and getting my materials ready) but because I had to set an example for the employees there, I had to make it look like I was doing something at all times. In FACT, this usually made me more tired because I felt like a hamster running uselessly in a wheel.


Exactly! It’s called PREP time. I’m a huge procrastinator, but my dad once pointed out something interesting (and mostly true). He said, “Katie, you always wait for the last minute to do anything. But when you do it, you do it right. All in one shot. I think that’s because you’re not really procrastinating — you’re just thinking about what you want to do before you do it, instead of diving in head first. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that!”

The hamster wheel feeling is the worst — what a waste of energy!


I HATE multi-tasking but am forced to do it often. I have spectacularly failed at my attempt to REFINE two years in a row and am determined to make it happen in my life or going completely mad and be sent to an institution.


Maybe I should send you an email once per week and all it says is REFINE! You know what they say — third time’s a charm. ;) (And for what it’s worth, I think you *have* refined. You just don’t give yourself enough credit.)

Jenna Francisco (@thismyhappiness)

Yeah, I see myself in much of what you said here. You’re right–it’s better to sit down and get one thing done before starting another. My blog posts are ridiculous–they’re the result of many tiny attempts. I do much better when I just sit down and write.


But why is it SOOOO hard???! :)

Saturday Six #137 - Misadventures with Andi

[…] movement is my friend Katie of Domestiphobia. She wrote a great post recently, “If I don’t look busy, it’s because I did it right the first time” in her usual humorous way, but it is a serious topic and one we should pay close attention […]


Funnily enough I have days where I actually get s***loads of thing done by multi-tasking and on other days I have to bang on and focus on one thing and one thing only as if I don´t do that I know I won´t get anything done at all. I think as with all things finding the right balance and prioritising is key.


Every rare now-and-then I can make that happen, but I think you’re right — you gotta prioritize. That way, when you find yourself working on multiple things at once, you can still pull yourself back to the original (top prioritized) goal. Without prioritizing, it’s REALLY difficult to know where to focus your energy!

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