When I was a sweet young thing I worked in a design studio with three nice men. As the New Kid, I inherited the job of picking up second lines when first lines were engaged, and functioning as Person B on big projects. One day I was working on a couple of my own projects and serving as Person B to just about everybody else. Those were the days of slow processors, and we had an extra workstation, so I had opened up projects on two computers. I’d give a command on one, and then go give a command on the other while I waited for the first computer to finish processing. In between I was returning phone calls, sending faxes, printing proofs, and building a “comp” over on the drafting table.
I didn’t think anything about it until one of my office mates started to laugh. “I can’t even answer the phone when I’m working on something,” he said. “And you’ve got every machine and the drafting table going down there.” A discussion ensued among the three men about a PBS show someone had watched about how women are better at multi-tasking than men are, but I don’t remember details; I went back to circulating through the computer, computer, phone, fax, drafting table, computer, computer.
I’m not sure that the ability to multi-task is gender-linked. I know it’s something I do well, and I know that when I’m doing it I tend to focus more intently on the jobs in sequence than I do on a single job, done separately. There’s something about bouncing between different types of tasks that seems to keep my gain more closely engaged for longer periods of time.
Now that it’s just me in the doghouse, I find myself using multi-tasking not only as a tool to get client work done, but to advance my own writing and design projects. I can only edit effectively for a couple hours at a time. Then I stop editing and go draw something. When I get a few sketches polished I put them aside and paint, or do creative writing. Each task seems to take a different sort of energy–and in some cases doing a different kind of task not only allows my batteries to recharge, but actually seems to help the process along.
For instance, in the time I devote to my own work each day I’m working on three books right now. I’m proofing Benchmarks, the memoir about single mothering that I’ve talked about here before. I’m also editing and typesetting a collection of short stories that grew out of some past-life regression exercises I did. And I’m writing on a YA book about a girl who discovers that her alter ego is all too real.
The mixture of projects not only helps me keep each of them moving ahead, but also energizes me for my “real” work–the design and illustration work I do to pay our bills. So here’s the thing: instead of waiting for time to work on the projects you love, try getting them out and working on them a few lines, a few stitches, a few paint strokes, at a time, as you’re passing by doing other things. It’s a great way to ensure that your personal goals, the ones that feed your soul, keep on track right along with the goals you meet on behalf of others.