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Why Americans Need to Stop 'Micro-Tasking'

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MICROTASKING
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Your terrifying word of the day is "microtasking" and it comes by way of a relatively humble, ostensibly helpful article I read via one of those perky little DIY blogs that exist to tell you a million ways to tweak and hack your entire existence to gain maximum productivity, efficiency and improved overall time management. Because, well, if that's not the true meaning of this manic American life, what is?

The advice was horrifyingly simple: When you find yourself pausing in between normal projects and work tasks for anything more than, say, 30 seconds, why not take those tiny moments and, well, do more things? I mean, you're just sort of sitting there, right?

What sort of things? Fast things, little things, otherwise inconsequential things you don't care about otherwise, like clearing your junk mail, refilling the stapler, changing your voicemail message, retweeting someone's Twitter blip or giving a momentary damn about something you need not give a damn about otherwise but hey, what else are you gonna do, breathe? Feel? Merely... exist? What are you, a hippie?

It's a fascinating and yes, terrifying idea, really, that if you could just maximize your output a little bit more, if you could cram into all open white space another thing to do, wow, think of all you could get done by the end of the day? Think of how much you could get checked off your list?

Think of how pleased your manager would be and how annoyed your colleagues and how God would look upon you more favorably because we all know God loves nothing more than the fact that you finally organized your pile of dust rags by smell?

Do not misunderstand. I'm all for a nice bit of work efficiency, for avoiding procrastination and getting down to the business of cranking out your own brand of special juicy goodness; I'm all for feeling a fine and gratifying sense of accomplishment at the end of it all, even though it's fleeting and transitory and the very next morning, hey look, a nice new pile of stuff waiting for you.

I'm more with Rumi, the hardcore, love-drunk Persian mystic, who has a terrific, rather intense bit of poetic instruct about not wasting your true calling in the world, about finding your gift and not squandering it because he says that would be like taking a precious Indian sword and using it merely to slice rotten meat, or nailing it to the wall and hanging rusty pots from it.

In other words, you have your gift, your offering, your divine instructions. Don't screw it up.

Rumi is all up in the divine nature of things. But I'm pretty sure he wasn't talking about bleaching your coffee mugs or making sure your iPhoto library is synced across multiple devices while you're hovering in between larger tasks, like creating PowerPoint presentations, prepping for surgery and not killing your spouse for forgetting to have kids.

"But wait!" I can hear you wail. "We're Americans! We love nothing more than to conflate 'work' with 'calling,' to confuse busyness with purpose. Stillness is suspicious! Work is all there is! Endless toil isn't just a means to divinity, it is divinity! It says so in the Bible! So it must be true."

Ain't it a shame? Don't ideas like microtasking speak directly to the toxic, puritanical American work ethic that tells us if you're not spending pretty much every waking moment in some manner of chore, well, your value as a human is more than a little bit diminished? Is it not the idea that a given month, week, day or hour is nothing more than a giant, blank to-do list in need of a some items?

Yes, we're Americans...

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Mark Morford is the author of "The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism," a mega-collection of his finest columns for the "San Francisco Chronicle" and "SFGate." He recently wondered who in your life you find perfectly toxic, cheered that the gay agenda will see you now and is fairly certain Jesus took magic mushrooms. Join him on Facebook, or email him. Not to mention...