Knitting · Purpose · Reading

The Snail and The Multi-tasker

There, that would be a parable for our modern times, wouldn’t it? Multi-tasking has been much on my mind in recent months, along with micro-managing, ‘slow’ living, the modern ways of the world compared to the ways of my youth; and if that makes me sound like Methuselah, I admit that’s how I sometimes feel. It seems that everything I read, or watch or listen to, highlights a facet of this subject and maybe I will talk about a few pertinent aspects over the coming weeks.

To get things rolling, I am not a multi-tasker, which is a slightly heretical admission for any woman to make because the given belief is that all women are multi-taskers. Indeed, it took me a long time to realise that I don’t multi-task, once the idea of multi-tasking had arrived on the scene. What I can do is switch my attention from one thing to another very quickly and that can be enough to give the impression that you are multi-tasking when you are not. In the short term, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between the two ways of working. However, whilst the people who are truly multi-tasking seem to be able to be equally interested (or sometimes disinterested) in everything that comes their way, I get utterly absorbed in the new item and the thing I was doing languishes. That’s fatal in these times when we are constantly bombarded with flashy new things.

There is a direct parallel in knitting where I prefer to work on one project at a time. If I have two different items on my needles, then I will be working on one and I will never go back to the other one. I suspect that on the rare occasions when I start a new project when I am still working on an existing item, it is my subconscious telling me that for some reason the original project has lost its allure.

There was a fascinating post and comment thread last week by a knitter I follow (see “Suggested reading” below for information) regarding the subject of knitting whilst you are in a meeting. Whilst I can understand that for some people their concentration is improved if they have something to occupy their hands, I don’t think it follows that this is true for everyone. I noted myself that if I was in a meeting, and I was knitting, I would not be paying full attention to the people in the meeting. I am not sure it would be safe to assume that everyone in a meeting could be knitting and paying attention simultaneously, although it would be equally dangerous to assume that people in a meeting are paying full attention if they aren’t knitting.

As I said, I have been thinking a lot around this subject and that’s because I have become interested in the ideas surrounding the ‘slow’ lifestyle – living more in the now, concentrating on each task (perhaps this is the same as valuing each task), not simply owning and doing more things, but taking the time to appreciate the things you own and do. It seems to me that this is where multi-tasking starts to fail.

Take television. I used to happily knit whilst I was watching TV. I wouldn’t be concentrating fully on my knitting and it would take me a long time to complete things. Neither would I be concentrating fully on the television programme and often wouldn’t really follow any intricacies in the plot. Earlier this year I decided that if a television programme was worth watching, then it deserved my attention. Now I watch much less television, but I enjoy the things I watch much more than I used to. I am investing my time in them, they are not simply happening in the background.

Likewise with my knitting. I have decided to take it to the next level and open a shop and therefore when I am knitting I am concentrating on it and I experience a deep enjoyment in the process of focusing on that project.

However, I am keeping the real benefit for last because it’s something I hadn’t anticipated, yet it is the thing that makes sense to me of all this striving for a less distracting lifestyle. When I devote my attention to one thing, my brain isn’t 100% involved with it. Instead, my head is free to think, to process, and to dream. For so long I have been missing my ability to daydream and suddenly here it is! I thought it had gone, but it was always there, it was just being drowned out by all the tiredness and the busy-ness and the conforming to stereotypes that I think we all do to fit in.

Right now inside your head you can be anywhere.

It may look like I am sitting in silence, knitting away, but in my head cowboys are walking into saloons, cops are shooting it out on the streets of New York, someone is pouring a cup of Darjeeling and quoting Alfred Lord Tennyson. It can be hot one minute and snowing the next and I can be young or old, riding a horse or piloting a spaceship.

Everything I know is inside my head; if multi-tasking blots it out, perhaps slow living will set it free.

Suggested reading:

Check out the blog knittingthestash and her post “Knitting At Work – A Manifesto”

On the subject of knitting and dreaming, there’s a great passage relating to this in Rose Tremain’s novel “Music and Silence” which is a book I can recommend to everyone, the knitting is only one small passage.

The particular poem of Tennyson’s which is running in my head is “Come Into The Garden, Maud” (you can look it up online, but please try not to get distracted by Webster Booth’s sung reditition).


Leonard Cohen’s “Slow”.

3 thoughts on “The Snail and The Multi-tasker

  1. I’m a knitter and also dedicated to a slower lifestyle. I agree with you on multi tasking – you loose something from each of the tasks your attempting. I do occasionally knit while watching TV or listening to a podcast, but not routinely, only if I have a lot stocking stitch to do in the round!

    1. Hi, Amy, lovely to hear from you and thank you for letting me know your thoughts. I agree about those occasions when TV or a podcast is helpful to jolly us along through the duller parts of a project. I think of daydreaming as my own private YouTube channel which plays on demand in my head – this is a device that only really needs a cup of tea to recharge.

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