Focusing and Refocusing

Multi-Tasking: Switching Gears Quickly, Smoothly and Gracefully

I learned early on in the workplace that multi-tasking is essential. A lot of people say they can do it. It is even a highlight in most resumes. But what does it actually mean? A quick Google search of the definition of multi-tasking will give you: (of a person) deal with more than one task at the same time. But does not great work require our full attention and time? Focus is key especially when learning a new task. Yet, we think we can listen to music while studying or, text while walking and call it multi-tasking skills. But is this definition of multi-tasking successful in the workplace?


Optimizing Time and Skills

How can multi-tasking be such a valued asset despite the set backs that it can bring? This is a valid question, but I think we are misinterpreting what multitasking really is, and therefore we are overlooking the skills that are actually valuable. In contrast to the referenced definition above, I find that multitasking is not doing two things at once, but rather managing the production of multiple things as efficiently as possible. I am talking about some high-level time management, prioritizing, defining tasks, concentrated shots of creativity and strong execution skills.

In an employer point of view, if an employee can do the work of two employees in the same amount of time, it would benefit the company. In any case, whether we like it or not, this asset of “multi-tasking” that businesses find valuable is actually an umbrella of skills that are interconnected. So, if this is what multitasking really is, it is no wonder that it is difficult to do well.


Developing a Designer’s Reaction Time

Focusing and refocusing is still a tough habit for me to develop. There are times when I just want to focus on the design project that I am enjoying. My mood is happy, relaxed and creative. “I know what I want to do, now just let me do it” is my attitude. Yet, there is always something that will take us away from what we really want to do.

How we react and deal with an unexpected and unwanted rendezvous can discipline and focus our creativity and perseverance, and also develop our “multi-tasking” skills. We are not turning off our creativity when switching between tasks, rather we are learning how to reassess a situation quickly, smoothly and gracefully. In short, we are learning how to deal with life.


Grace Under Pressure

Multi-tasking is tightly woven with time constraints and pressure. A cool head in dire situations is a life skill. For some people this is a struggle. We panic, lose control or lose stamina. Here are some quick tips that help me when I feel the pressure:

  • Breath, Stay Calm and Make a Plan | Deadlines, set backs and life can come at you like a ton of bricks. But, panicking will not help. Stay cool and use your head. Think about the task at hand, make a plan that will complete it efficiently. Take a step back and refocus. This can mean taking out a paper to quickly write down the steps so you do not miss anything, and so you can see where you are in the process.
  • Ask for Help | I have asked a manager to take over a situation when I felt like I was losing control. It may seem like admitting defeat but, in your current state of confusion or panic will not be of help to anyone. In the workplace, you are in a team, so you should trust your team to support you.
  • Do Not Sweat the Small Stuff | It is funny because as a designer we are all about the details. But, first and foremost, you are a human being and your mental state and health comes first. So, if you feel the pressure, do what you need to do to get you back in a cool head. This can mean stepping away from the computer, having a quick chat with someone or drinking some water.


Step by Step

Multi-tasking helps us combat laziness or idleness. When I started developing this blog, I thought that I could commit certain times in my week to write and edit. My plans constantly change and, so these allotted times have become an hour here and there throughout the week. I have projects that I really want to work on but never get anywhere with because I can not seem to schedule them in they way that I want to.

It’s weird. I have this notion that projects need to be done all at once. It might be because I was able to do this at school. I was cranking out projects in a span of weeks. But in reality, this also takes multi-tasking skills and perseverance. Clients will not have the all the content ready, so you may need to research, document and organize files before design work even starts.

Learning how to be efficient with the programs, techniques or skills that we use everyday are so important to save time and energy. I remember doing production work at a design company that was cranking designs, one right after another, once I walked in. I found my stamina and skills tested. Quick keys and time-saving techniques are essential for design production (or any design work for that matter).


What Should You Focus On?

I came up with this topic in the workplace. I was waiting for content and needed something to pass the time. Switching gears did not come as gracefully. It was difficult to move on to something else that I found less stimulating. But, I am a bigger picture kind of gal and it came to me: I’m not just learning how to multi-task my time for this project, I am multi-tasking my time and effort for everything in my life. It is not only about multi-tasking a career or hobby, we also have to prioritize and re-prioritize our loved ones and dreams.

There are details in life that can get us down: a loss, a breakup, a set back. We can find ourselves focused on these aspects. But, we have the ability to react to situations with grace and take it in stride. We’re all multi-tasking, but how we multi-task can change our lives. So, whether your current situation has you under pressure or bored, take hold of this skill called multi-tasking and refocus on what is really important. ■

Patricia Atienza