The Secret Power of Multitasking No One Ever Talks About

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“If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” I first heard this famous adage from Benjamin Franklin in my early twenties. I had just joined the Data Processing Management Association and the new president asked me to volunteer for a position. She was a smart, motivated, and very successful woman. So it goes without saying she was more than prepared for my inevitable (and lame) response. “I’m kinda busy,” I sheepishly replied. That’s when she said it.

“You know what they say, Chris, ‘If you want something done, give it to a busy person.’” She didn’t know it (or did she?), but, for me, those were button pushing words. I would never allow anyone, least of all me, tell me I couldn’t do something, no matter how busy I was.

She wasn’t, however, angling for this particular hot button. She was taking her cue from good ol’ Ben Franklin. Over the centuries, we’ve come to understand that busy people tend to accomplish more, not just because of some Puritan work ethic, but because of their highly developed time management skills. Certainly, the initial motivations that prodded people to become busy had nothing to do with time management. No, more likely attitudes and behaviors like curiosity, ambition, and an unyielding desire to experience new things by exploring the unknown drove these busy people to, well, be busy.

Times have changed. In the Twenty-First Century, we no longer call these people “busy,” we can them “multitaskers.” It doesn’t matter what we call them, though, the response of the greater public remains the same. I’ve always juggled different and competing thoughts, ideas, and interests within that small domain of space I occupy. Before college, my parents never complained. After a few semesters as an undergraduate, and with greater intensity during my upperclassman years, mom and dad would often hint, “Chris, are you sure you aren’t doing too much. After all, you’re not going to school for the extracurriculars, you’re going there to study. We’re afraid your grades might be suffering.”

There’s that hot button! With an extra serving of “grades.”

Well, I respect my parents and I knew nothing would be gained by arguing, so I simply explained, “I’m like a shark swimming in the water. A shark must constantly move in order to breathe or else it will die. It’s like me. If I’m not constantly doing something,… well, we just don’t want to go there.”

I conveniently left out the part about how I didn’t care about any arbitrary grade. I only cared about learning (which I alone, not some professor, could accurately measure), But learning was not limited to the classroom. I quickly discovered the college environment offered a tremendous amount of resources outside those ivy-covered walls. And, given my rather Spartan background (those who know me will get the pun), I didn’t know if I’d ever have a crack at a cornucopia like that again.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I dove into this with my eyes shut. I understood I had limits, the greatest of which was time. I also understood experience without objective is pure hedonism. I didn’t want to just spin some wheel like a rat in a cage, I wanted each experience to act as a stepping stone to something bigger. What I needed was a game plan like I had never before seen. So I turned to books, specifically books about goal setting and time management, more specifically, this book: Targets: How to Set Goals for Yourself and Reach Them! by Leon Tec, M.D. (You can read about how this book helped me on my web-site in the Book Reviews category under the title, “Leon Tec’s Targets – The Book that Started it All.”

I went beyond reading it. I absorbed it into my very soul. Its system became the template for managing my activity schedule and eventually led to my life’s work (see But that’s another story for another day.

If you’ve read this far, you must be wondering “Where’s the ‘Secret Power’ you talked about in the title?” Well, as a reward for making it so deep into my weary ramblings, I will now share with you the one thing no one ever tells you about multitasking. It’s not about time management. It’s not about goal setting. It’s about something more powerful, incredibly useful, and extremely difficult to describe in words.

Let’s start with the one word that best describes it: “Connections.”

Maybe that’s too vague. How about a phrase? The series of words that best describes it is “connecting the dots.”

Now let’s wrap it all in a business term I’m sure many of you have more than a passing familiarity with: “synergy.”

If you’re really good at multi-tasking then something amazing starts to happen. All those varied tasks begin to meld together. Soon, you see a vision. It’s as if the solutions for one task overlay on top of the problems of another task. In other words, you’re not solving problems serially (i.e., one at a time), you’re solving them in parallel (i.e., all at once).

More importantly, the solutions to one task’s problem, when applied to another task, often reveal an “outside-the-box” opportunity for another task, even if that task never had a “problem” to begin with. So many of the world’s greatest discoveries occur in this manner. The inventor borrows a solution from one system and applies it to a totally unrelated system. This previously unknown connection between the two systems generates a synergy where the whole exceeds the sum of its parts.

In effect, Lucille Ball did this with Ben Franklin’s quote when she extended it to “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. The more things you do, the more you can do.”

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