Search This Blog

Monday, December 19, 2016

The chickens know how to lay the eggs.

Recently while researching the life of W. C. Handy, I read a story about a man who had a chicken farm but who was out selling insurance.  When asked why he was doing both, the insurance salesman replied:  "The chickens know how to lay the eggs."  His point?  The chickens could be doing their work while he did some other kind of work.

Today we casually and differently refer to doing more than one job as multi-tasking, but I think this chicken-farmer-turned-insurance-salesman's story tells the truth about how multi-tasking gets its value--from productivity, not simply by being busy performing tasks that can be done better sequentially than juggled simultaneously.

It is one kind of activity to start a load of laundry and then while it's washing sweep the kitchen.
It is another kind of activity to start a load of laundry and then go door to door selling encyclopedias.
The difference is profit.

There is a time in the working life of anyone where you start certain actions in motion and then you do not need to watch the chickens lay eggs or the washing machine wash. You are free to engage in other activities, but in business, those activities should ideally be profit oriented--the hope of making progress. That is the authenticity and purpose fulfilled of real multi-tasking.

We are often duped into thinking multi-tasking is something else, like checking email while talking on the phone.  That activity is splitting your attention, but it doesn't necessarily mean you do either or both tasks well.  There is a difference in a job done halfway and a job done very well.  There is an important difference in paying close attention to others in a focused way, too, so that people feel seen, heard, and understood rather than managed like an item on the to-do list that gets checked.

Multi-tasking dupes us in other ways, too.  It's sneaky.  Because we are busy being busy, we may discover that we are not doing the work we need to do--we are just doing something that makes us feel better about ourselves, but we are not accomplishing what needs to be done. In this way, sometimes multi-tasking is a form of procrastinating--doing stuff we want to do rather than the stuff we don't want to do. Because we are busy, we think we have the excuse of being busy. But that is not an excuse for avoiding work that needs to be done.

After reading that story about the chicken farmer selling insurance, I asked, 'How often do I walk away from a task to let it steep or lay its own eggs when it really needs me to be there and finish something I've begun?' For often multi-tasking is a form of procrastination when we put off finishing a task--we have started it but didn't stay around to finish it.

I look ahead to my work week and wonder when does the explanation multitasking fit and when is it an excuse to give less than my best effort, most focused concentration, my serious accountable-for- the-outcome results attention.  Certainly chickens don't need me to watch them to do their laying of eggs, but so many of the activities of work do need nurturing, watering, tending, and follow through. If you pride yourself on being a high-volume multi-tasker, can you truly say you are paying close attention to the work and relationships that require your best work and closest attention?

I can't. I am guilty of multi-tasking in ways to avoid my responsibilities and so that I have an excuse for failing at doing the work I should be doing.  But that chicken farmer turned insurance salesman got my attention.

From now on I shall pay attention to how I think about my work and how I use the excuse of multitasking to quit or procrastinate rather than the real and truthful explanation at times that while my particular brand of chickens don't need me to watch them lay eggs, there are times in the work day when it is my job to feed the chickens or gather the eggs.  I shall be careful to be attentive enough to the process involved in real-value productivity to finish my part of the work without excuses of any kind.

Daphne's latest book is not about making money; it is about giving, and it's called Christmas in Fountain City

No comments:

Post a Comment