Aug 20, 2008

Multitasking is not a virtue

In our over scheduled modern life, multitasking is seen as skill that to be praised and applauded. My husband used to watch television, read the paper and listen to me talk with him all at the same time. If you can answer email, return phone calls, finish a report and surf the internet during meeting, it is seen as being both efficient and productive. Talking on the cell phone while driving, doing homework with the radio or TV on and texting friends, searching the internet or talking on the phone – we try to cram in more information more action to save time.

But research* determined that for various types of tasks, subjects lost time when they had to switch from one task to another. These "time costs" increased with the complexity of the chores: It took longer, say researchers Rubinstein and Meyer, for subjects to switch between more complicated tasks. Not being able to concentrate for, say, tens of minutes at a time, may mean it's costing a company as much as 20 to 40 percent in terms of potential efficiency lost, or the "time cost" of switching, as these researchers call it.

Multitasking is not a virtue in Chado. Making tea is a complicated procedure and sensei says, “Complete this moment before going on to the next.” Over 400 years in the making and serving tea, it has been refined to be the most efficient and beautiful way of doing it. My own poor brain begins to shut down if I try to multitask while making tea. Even talking and making tea makes me freeze up. Either I stop making tea, or I stop talking. It is difficult to do both at once.

There is another reason multitasking is not held in high esteem in the tea room. It prevents you from being in the present. It prevents you from concentrating on making the very best tea for your guests. “When you make tea, make tea. When you are drinking tea, drink tea – nothing more.”

* “Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching" American Psychological Association's Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance


  1. This is why, more than ever, the world needs chanoyou. Just as the Samurai needed it in feudal Japan, as an escape from the blood shed, the people of today, especially those in business, need a break from the paper shed.

    Thanks again for such thoughtful words.

    The more things we can completely devote our full selves to in the moment, the closer we come to truly living our lives.


  2. Matt,

    I too, believe that the world needs chanoyu. The modern life seems to be increasing in complexity, going faster and time is in such short supply.

    Thank you for your comments. I always enjoy reading them.

    Take care,


  3. Your explanation is totaly thrilling for me.

    Once, Krissi-sensei, the chairlady of our Bulgarian Tea Association, told me, that she had resive reproof from Urasenke, because she follow one Bulgarian, really bright, gentle, wise, Christian sect. Or because she want to teach Ikebana also.
    Back then, i thought that this must be connected with her dedication for leading Bulgarian Urasenke Association or something like this...

    But maybe, if i understand in right direction this beautiful explanation of multitasking in Chado, the story is kind of different..

  4. Dear temae,

    Thank you once again for your comments. You are very lucky to have Krissi sensei. Please give her my regards, and thank her for her dedication to Chado.