So as part of my New Year’s plan I am taking up a blogging challenge – to blog every day! I usually write things as and when they pop into my head, but I am going to try to be a bit more proactive and have signed up to the challenge set by Lotte Lane who is a bit of an old hand at blogging. This morning as I watch the sun rise over a beautiful part of France, where I am for the week, surrounded by my extended family the topic of multitasking has popped into my head. Actually, it didn’t just “pop” into my head, I was taking about the fact that I was trying to work at the same time three of my aunts were talking about things that we need to do today. As I struggled to maintain my work-head stance we all started to talk about how good at multitasking we are. As a family, collectively, amazing at doing loads of things at once. Except I have realised that even my ability to take part in several conversations at once is challenged when n > 3 different conversations! Multitasking is something that is supposed to be a good thing, we champion it, we celebrate it, and it is supposed to be something that gets lots of things done quicker and more efficiently. “I’ll make a cup of tea while my computer turns on”, may hardly be considered multitasking but when this turns into “I’ll make a cup of tea, turn on my computer, send a text, read the front page of the newspaper, get something out the freezer for dinner” and somehow you are doing quite a few things at once. There is presumably an optimum level when you are doing several things well but not too many. But how do we know when that point has been reached? Hopefully we don’t end up spilling the tea all over out laptop and texting the wrong person before we manage to find out where that limit is! I think it does very much depend on what it is we are trying to multitask as to how effective it actually is. Certainly having too many conversations at once with too many different people is definitely something that can go horribly wrong if we’re not careful. We can end up having half conversations, dipping in and out of them all and not really listening properly to anything. We like to think we are taking part, but how well are we actually effectively engaging? It is easy to drop in a couple of words here and there to make it look like we are taking part in all the conversations but while this may serve a social purpose it doesn’t necessarily result in a productive conversation. Then we may start to wonder what the point is, why do we not choose a conversation to take part in and run with it. Speaking personally, I think it is because I am a social animal, I like to be involved and I also want to know what is going on! Is this true for everyone, or are we just bad at filtering out what we don’t need to listen to and are some people better at it than others? My ability to filter, consolidate, listen and choose does however kick in when I am facilitating, which is perhaps more to do with the fact that I am not an actual participant, I am not “in” the conversation as such. When facilitating a group, there is a fine line to be walked when managing the different conversations, comments, inputs and ideas from the different participants. The facilitator needs to be able to give everyone the opportunity to say what they need to say, but at the same time balance the quality and quantity and relevance of the conversation. Often there may be different people talking about different things which are equally relevant to the group, the trick is to try to listen to all the contributions properly and help field the conversations in a way that doesn’t let the asides detract from what the group really needs to be discussing. If there are indeed several conversations happening all at once, then the group becomes several groups and (unless this is the intention) this is not enabling the content to be shared effectively. Managing a number of people having dialogue then would seem to be a very different skill to actually fully taking part and the role of a facilitator is just that, to manage, to engage and to help the conversations along. It is not to give an opinion, or point of view but to work with the mechanics of the dialogue to ensure that it stays on track. The concept of of multitasking then seems to have a lot of different facets, it is a useful and important ability for some situations, when it is vital to pay attention to a variety of different things that are going on. When I am working with a group my ability to bounce between people is in fact an asset. On the other hand multitasking is potentially detrimental, we run the risk of offending someone or not having gained the right type of information by being semi involved in a number of different conversations going on at once. In this sense  staying focused and not go headlong into super conversational multitasking might be something to aim for. As for all the more physical things that we may try to do at once (as opposed to all this talking) – the tea, the lap top and the text message, there is a definite need to learn where the limits lie! We only have one pair of hands and perhaps doing things sequentially rather consecutively may not be such a bad plan, in some situations, sometimes……………!

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