To really get things done requires a state of flow – uninterrupted time and an environment that promotes focus. This is when we reach goals, identify and rectify mistakes, see the progress we’re making, and generally feel satisfied about ourselves and our work.
I’ve read lots of articles and books on the subject. I’ve experienced the difference that flow can make in my work, not just as a designer, but formerly as a musician, and even as a home cook. But I’ve never heard anyone say that men require a state of flow while women don’t.
So why then do we still propagate this idea that women are better at multitasking? If women also need to reach this state of flow to be more productive, then why do we continue to insist that they also be good multitaskers?
It’s because historically, women’s time has been considered less valuable then men’s, and the idea that they are just naturally better at multitasking, regardless of whether or not there is some kernel of truth to it, is a great justification for not respecting their time.
Yes, it’s easy to say that times have changed and women aren’t just secretaries anymore, but every time I hear of something like this I can’t help but feel like we haven’t come as far as we might’ve hoped. The expectation isn’t simply that women can be constantly interrupted that is upsetting, it’s the belief that women are naturally good at being constantly interrupted (or taking notes at meetings, or organizing things, or whatever) and that these things should therefor be an implicit part of every woman’s job description.
Working as a freelance consultant, I can’t say that I experience this expectation as much now as I did when I worked in an office full-time. (In fact I’ve found that, in general, my clients today are much more likely to respect my time and do everything they can to help me maintain my focus, since that’s what they hire me for.) Even though I have no one but myself to blame, I do still experience it. As a freelancer you can easily find yourself suddenly taking on a lot of projects at once, or in working with a client, taking on more responsibilities than you are really suited for, and all of those little things can start to add up into what feels like major distractions from your “real” work. We bill by the hour, so it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking about the value we add as only being valuable by the hour, but hours mean nothing without mental focus and attention (and I don’t just mean the number of hours that are billable).
This is all just to say that this year, I’ve personally decided to stop planning my client work as though I am a natural multitasker. Instead, my goal is to build time for both dedicated focus and unplanned discovery into the projects that I love by cutting more of the extraneous busy work out. This may mean saying “no” to some opportunities that come along, but I’m convinced that it will be beneficial for me, and my projects, in the long-run. All creatives (and not just women!) should be so lucky.