In season 4 of “Parks and Recreation” Leslie Knope’s boss Ron Swanson advises her, “never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”
One difficulty of modern life is that there are so many ways to spend time – so many projects, challenges, ambitions – that it’s tempting to try to cram as much activity as possible into each moment. There is increasing evidence that multi-tasking doesn’t actually work – it’s not actual multi-tasking that people are doing, it’s a rapid cycling from one task to another with too little focus on any one thing long enough to accomplish much.
Also, “multi-tasking” is annoying for people who are being cycled past by “multi-taskers” who never seem to remember anything you have told them, who tap-tap-tap away on their laptops in meetings, occasionally popping up like prairie dogs, asking to be filled in on everything they just missed while they were failing at the task of listening.
A few months ago I joined a band. I was invited to join as the drummer, but then we didn’t have a vocalist, so I was a asked to also be the singer. This seemed like a great opportunity because I like to play the drums and I also really like to sing, so, sweet. But, it also means that when I practice I have to first learn the drum part, then practice putting the drum part and the vocal part together. It’s fairly easy if the syncopation (or lack thereof) of the drum and vocal parts match, but requires some serious new neural pathways when they don’t match.
More recently we talked about bringing in a dedicated singer. I confess that initially I was a tiny bit resistant, but I like my band mates and don’t want to be a diva, so I got on board with trying it out. And then, once I got on board with the idea, I started to like the idea. I started thinking about how nice it would be to be able to focus on my drumming, and on becoming a better, more professional drummer. A drummer who lays down a beat so reliable you could use it to regulate the Large Hadron Collider.
Because, the thing is, I don’t know if I can make those advances in my drumming if I’m trying to remember the lyrics, trying to make sure I have enough breath support not to sound like a karaoke reject, and trying to integrate a syncopated back beat with the contrasting beat of the chorus. Or maybe I can, but not in the amount of time I have to devote to practicing. When I realized this, it hit me – I was trying to half-ass two things, and it would be great to be able to whole-ass one.
It also made me think about why I wanted to be a multi-tasking band member to begin with – it came down to ego. It’s very seductive to think of myself as super-person, who can excel at everything all at once. But since this isn’t realistic, the trick is to recognize when it’s really a case of half-assing, and to course-correct accordingly. We’re auditioning a singer this week, and I have my fingers crossed that she works out.