Friday, December 4, 2009

Single-Tasking in a Multi-Tasking World

A couple months ago I went to Walgreen's. I picked up a few items and took them to the register. The woman who rang me up was on the phone. She acknowledged me with a nod while she rang up my order, talked on the phone, and straightened out a display on the counter. When she hung up, there was a big smile on her face. "Always multi-tasking, that's me!" She was clearly very proud of her ability to do so. I was not as impressed as she expected me to be. Why? Because I was one of those tasks, and she was only giving me one third of her attention - probably less, when you figure that she also probably had some stuff running all around in her brain that wasn't immediately visible to the casual observer. I was only getting a third of her attention that I knew of.

Now I can multi-task too, and certainly have when the situation dictates a need. Everyone can. It's not a particularly impressive skill, it's just a necessity of life sometimes. She may have been in just that situation and I don't judge her for that. I wasn't bothered so much by the multi-tasking as I was by the evident pride she took in it. I thought about how differently I would have handled the same situation. I would have hung up the phone and said (to the actual living customer in front of me) "I'm so sorry about that!" Then I would have been sure to give them my undivided attention for the remainder of the transaction. Which took, like thirty seconds. Are all of these other things so important that you can't give another human being thirty seconds?

Ok, this was a small, tiny incident and maybe I'm being too hard on the Walgreen's clerk for not giving my chapstick and band aids the attention they deserved. Or maybe I'm being self-important - expecting a clerk to drop everything and actually wait on me when I come to her counter. But wait - isn't that her job? She was so proud of all of the things she was accomplishing at once that she neglected the real live person in front of her.

She was a clerk at Walgreen's and I was a customer. It didn't put a real strain on our relationship. But think about how often we do this to our friends, our spouses, our children. If my feelings were hurt when the clerk at the drugstore couldn't offer me thirty seconds of her undivided, think about how it feels to our loved ones when we can't step away from our oh-so-important chores to give them our undivided for a moment or two.

This seems to become a lot more exaggerated during the holiday season. We're trying to accomplish a million things at once and not giving our full attention to any of them. Maybe it's time to slow down. Maybe it's time to pay a little less attention to the shopping, the baking and the decorating and a little more attention to the people who are right in front of us. Will they be more likely to remember the perfect tree, or the conversations you have when you're doing nothing but listening to them? Which would you be more likely to remember?

Sigh.

It occurs to me that I may be feeling the need to write this because I do not have the perfect tree or the perfect decorations. I have not and will not bake the perfect cookie. I will not be giving anyone the perfect gift this year. But I can listen. I can give a little time. I can find a way to make that time undivided. I can do that. Maybe this is my way of convincing myself that that's good enough.

Please don't tell me I'm wrong...

38 comments:

Badass Geek said...

I really dislike it when a cashier doesn't pay attention to me when I am the customer. Talking on the phone or to another employee is disrespectful, in my opinion.

Jenn said...

My Mom is the champ of "multitasking". Sometimes she will swear we never had a conversation which lasted 10 minutes! Now when I want her full attention I actually say "Pay attention to Me." That just indicates that what I'm saying needs remembering, everything else is just chat. You do what you can to get things done. As a Mom, that's just the way.

Amy said...

My kids often complain that I am not giving them my full attention--call it ADD or multi-tasking, to them it's just a lack of love and concern for them. It's something I need to work on.

kys said...

I'm really bad about this. I do it because I don't have enough time to accomplish the basic necessities to keep the house running. The sad thing is that it doesn't save that much time because I make so many mistakes and forget so many things that I have to go back and do everything again!

Tater Tot Mom said...

You are so not wrong, I completely agree! It seems like as we take on a faster pace, human interaction takes the wayside and I think that's a sad thing because it diminishes people's compassion for one another. Plus, it's just annoying! My parent's are both multitaskers to a fault and honestly, I'm never sure they're really listening to me. I'd love to just once have them really listen!

Mandy's Life After 30 said...

I love it when a clerk will actually talk to me. The Publix grocery store clerks here are so friendly. Human contact is slowly becoming a dying thing these days, sigh!

Tammy, you truly sound like an amazing person. I think having a real, in-life conversation with you would be a gift. Having you listen or make me laugh is the closest thing to Christmas joy that I can think of, much better than a Charlie Brown tree or some clearance item from Target.

M said...

You rock Tammy, and I think that your undivided attention is MOST CERTAINLY the best gift you could ever possibly give them. Three holiday cheers for you! :)
M
http://Mandthe2Henrys.blogspot.com
http://HomemakerPhD.blogspot.com

Daisy said...

AND you can blog about it so that others can read it, absorb it, and spread it through the world. Sort of like "this little light of mine"...I completely agree with your post and having been in customer service for almost 15 years, I know that the key to a business is the customer and to keep the customer you have to provide excellent customer service. But there are MANY people working in customer service who don't get this...esp at big box stores. Oh well.

Thank you for the reminder to take a deep breath, put down the beading tools and listen to my husband.

Allyson said...

And this can go both ways! I try extra hard to not be on my phone when I'm ordering at a drive thru or anywhere at a check-out. Unfortunately, the speed at which we insist on living suggests that courtesy is a thing of the past. And I think that's just plain rude.

Ms Bibi said...

Undivided attention as a gift...what a concept. I think we all need to give some of that.We would be surprised how much it is needed.

The best part is that it won't show up on your credit card statement,lol.

Thank you for a great post and a reminder to slow down.

Becky said...

I think you've got it right!

(I love your new design..but I kindof had a hard time reading with the background:( Sorry to bring it up)

Eva Gallant said...

So true; it's so easy to get our priorities confused!

Traci said...

You are absolutely right. Listening is one of the greatest gifts you can give and is WAY more important than the PERFECT tree, ornaments, etc. Besides the perfect tree is the tree that brings your family together and warms their hearts.

PS I am in total agreement about the customer service. She may have had to spit her attention to you but she shouldn't have celebrated that. I have spent many a year behind a retail counter and I actually took pride in making a connection with my customer. And if I had to be distracted, I would have said "excuse me" and "I'm sorry". Oh well, here's to us hold-outs. :-)

carma said...

I think people who take pride in multitasking and telling others about it are the same annoying people who can't do a thing without talking into their bluetooth - it gives them a big sense of "I'm important" Look at me.

No, how about you listen to ME???

I'm just old fashioned that way ;-)

Srsly, the best gift you can give your kids is your attention.

Theta Mom said...

I live in NJ and I find it's such a RUSH as it is. It's always go-go-go and then add in some mutlti-tasking it becomes CRAZY. I'm with ya!

Rosa said...

You KNOW you're not wrong. Your full attention is definitely more valuable than the perfect.....anything.

MiMi said...

No, you're writing it because it stands out to you as RUDE.
Speaking as someone who used to work in customer service, I get upset when I'm not treated well, and have the cashiers full attention, because when I was in the same job, I GAVE ALL of my attention to the living, breathing customer. If the phone rang while they were there, it was ignored. It's the way it was. And seems like nowadays they just don't care.

Tsquared417 said...

You are SO right. Amen.

blueviolet said...

I completely agree with you. I am the worst multi-tasker in the world and that is precisely why I could NEVER have blogged when my kids were minors. I don't know how people blog and parent. Seriously.

I can barely blog and breathe. (I do manage to eat somehow though. Eff that ability.)

Betty Manousos:cutand-dry.blogspot.com said...

Tammy, i totally agree with you. I am a multi-tasker and my priorities very often get confused.
hugs hugs

vixensden said...

Undivided attention is the best gift you can give. Well said. Why can't we take 30 seconds to acknowledge a stranger? You never know where it might lead.

vixensden said...

Undivided attention is the best gift you can give. Well said. Why can't we take 30 seconds to acknowledge a stranger? You never know where it might lead.

blueviolet said...

I should clarify my earlier comment. That wasn't a judgment comment. That was an expression of mystical wonderment and a wish that I could be more like those people who can do it all! I envy people who can blog and parent, and especially those who can blog, parent, and work!

K said...

I think multi-tasking is over rated.

Nobody is actually as good at it as they think.

Charlene said...

I think it's a great topic. I am a great multi-tasker and I think in general, most women are. men - not so much. But still, I'm now trying to find a way to just have less tasks. So this year, not sending holiday cards for example. When I thought about the pictures and the printing and addressing and mailing... lots of tasks which I can really skip at least one year.

Love your blog!
Charlene
www.beamingbalance.com

pk said...

pk @ Room Remix
I think she should have focused completely on you, because that's what she is being paid to do. She can multi-task all she want to outside of work :-) I agree with you that giving your undivided attention to someone is one of the best gifts you can give. Have a great weekend!

otin said...

I am the world's worst multi tasker. I am not kidding! I really cannot do two things at one time. no phone while the tv is on, no call waiting, no twitter while web surfing! Nothing! LOL

BONNIE K said...

She was rude, plain and simple. Customer service has really gone away in most of this world. It's sad.

Joanna Jenkins said...

The older I get the less I'm able to multi-task. I have to do one thing at a time otherwise I just end up chasing my tail. So YES, I say NOT multi-tasking and giving someone your undivided attention is a good thing.

xo

gayle said...

You are so right!! I am guilty of not paying attention to my husband and daughters but boy do I get my feelings hurt when they do it to me...Thanks for the reminder!!

tattytiara said...

I know I'm not happy when people who are being paid to perform a service for me only give me a percentage of their attention. I almost feel bad for this clueless wonder, though, since you said she seemed so proud. She clearly wants to do the right things but has been taught completely ass backward professional priorities. I'm almost more inclined to be po'd at the management for not training/correcting their staff properly.

Bottom line though yeah, I've definitely shared your frustration more than once!

Melissa B. said...

Definitely not good at multi-tasking. And when my cherubs do it at school, drives me freakin' nuts. I guess I'm old-school. Or just old...

prashant said...

I really dislike it when a cashier doesn't pay attention to me when I am the customer.

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Pam said...

You're not wrong. You're not only right your are brilliant. The overwhelming amount of "stuff" we try to accomplish at the holidays just serves to make the holidays a source of stress and resentment for many people. This is something I"m working very hard on avoiding this year. Good for you for not letting yourself get caught up in all the Christmas Craziness. I need to figure out a way to let all that go - without disappointing others. *sigh*

Unknown Mami said...

I have worked customer service so much and I would never multi-task when helping a customer. I try to look people in the eye and give them my full attention. Multi-tasking is over-rated and just means you are shortchanging everything. Eat the orange! Be in the moment! Life is about being present always, said the woman watching TV while she blogs and spends time with her husband. I'm not perfect!

Brandy said...

I'm guilty of this a lot. And it's not until it's too late that I realize I haven't been paying attention. Guess this is something that I will add to my New Year's resolution list.

As for the cashier though, you're right - it's her JOB.

Jenn Erickson said...

Tammy ~ right on! I agree with you about the Walgreen's gal. An apology was in order. You hit the nail on the head about taking time to mono-task. We get so caught up at this time of year doing things we think we're supposed to be doing. It's that invisible outside pressure that tells us we have to have the perfect tree, the Norman Rockwell-like feast, the Hallmark moments... and we miss out on what we know in our hearts is really most important. Thank for shining a light on the true priorities of the season!

MaryRC said...

my kids have started calling me computer mom. im not a great multi-tasker. i cannot listen and read at the same time, cant do it, and they always wanna talk to me when im reading/blogging.

im a big believer in if you hate your job, don't punish me for it. some people have zero respect for cashiers and clerks, but i do, ive been there and i hated it, so i got another job. clerks, etc. if they're good, i seek them out. theres a lady at wally world who's line i seek every week that i go. she smiles, i smile and shes fast, she rocks and i tell her so.