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The Myth of Multitasking

Multi-tasking has become such a common practice, it almost seems strange for us to do only one thing at any given time. Can you remember the last time you watched a tv show without checking social media or texting someone?

Do you send emails or drive to your next destination while you eat? Or do you (insert cringe here) have conversations with people while texting or checking social media? (It’s ok, we’ve all done it. We’ll all go to etiquette school together.)

There are so many distractions in our daily lives;

so many tasks that require our attention. At least, that’s what we tell ourselves as we toggle between two, or sometimes even three or four tasks.

By now we’ve all heard about the studies that show how ineffective multi-tasking is, and yet here we are, still doing it. Are we truly that busy? Or have we become reliant on a flurry of distractions and interruptions that divide our focus so that we are not actually doing any one thing particularly well? (Nah, can’t be that.)

Maybe we’re rocking all of these tasks simultaneously, but they are taking us twice the time they normally would if we completed each tasks separately.

Our brains truly are wired for single-focus,

but we tend to push the limits unless it is crucial for our full attention to be riveted to one task. We wouldn’t want our surgeon to be checking his fantasy football league stats while wielding the scalpel, but if he did so during lunch, we’d be less inclined to care.

Most of us aren’t operating on people, so it may seem as if our divided focus wouldn’t matter as much, but the effects of multi-tasking are likely taking more of a toll than we want to admit.

Not only are we decreasing our productivity by multi-tasking, we are over-taxing our brains and not allowing for necessary recovery time between tasks. In our well intentioned attempts to do a lot of things at once, we are also tuckering out our minds.  

We are inadvertently causing ourselves additional stress,

which can result in minimized ability to focus, memory issues, anxiety and depression. Sometimes our bodies and brains know we are stressed long before we consciously realize it.

Multi-tasking also impacts our relationships with others. When we try to attend to a multitude of other tasks, something’s got to give. How many times have you been in a restaurant and observed others sitting with family and friends, paying more attention to their phones than each other?

It’s gotten to the point at which it would almost seem odd not to see this dynamic. On some level, all of us know that multitasking has gotten out of hand in our culture. The impact on relationships and our ability to be present for our loved ones is the most detrimental of these effects. And yet we continue to do it.

Many states have enacted laws against texting while driving.

Give that some thought for a moment. The government had to create laws because we are so accustomed to multi-tasking that we decided that it’d probably be ok to send smiley face emojis while hurtling down the road in a big metal box that we were navigating.

We were crashing our cars and sometimes even worse; someone had to protect us from ourselves if we didn’t have enough common sense to just drive. Maybe the problem is that we only have one set of eyes and hands and evolution hasn’t caught up to our multi-tasking obsession yet.

Our collective lack of focus and inability to attend to one thing at a time seems to be a manifestation of several larger cultural problems:

1. We are afraid of boredom.

Terrified of it. Boredom has become the enemy to avoid at all costs. If we aren’t entertained or busy juggling a variety of tasks, we begin to feel “underwhelmed.” We have trained our minds to require constant, rapid-fire stimuli, in spite of the fact that this is not a healthy trend.

When we ask ourselves to simply engage in one activity, it becomes even more difficult to attend to it because we are so accustomed to being bombarded with distractions and having to filter them out. It is as if we have developed a wide-spread case of cultural Attention Deficit Disorder, and this is  the result of the habits we create in our daily lives from multi-tasking.

2. We have forgotten the value of simplicity.

Our lives are complex, rich in electronics and driven by deadlines and responsibilities. On one hand that can seem exciting and we thrive on that kind of novelty, but in the scheme of things, we become less effective and attentive.

Multi-tasking impacts the seemingly “little-things” that end up causing big problems (lack of eye contact during communication, not properly attending to our physical and emotional needs and the inability to stay present in the moment and experience life more completely).

3. We have a stalker-type relationship with our phones.

It is an addiction, of sorts. Cell phones have shifted over from being just a form of communication to being our life-lines. All of us communicate with friends, colleagues, shop, date, network and read;  schedule our appointments, secure jobs, document our lives in photographs and share our experiences via cell.

We check our phones when they sound an alert, and when they haven’t sounded an alert for a while (to make sure the battery isn’t dead). We have effectively created a relationship with our phones and often spend more time and attention on these devices than in any other relationship in our lives.

 

Breaking Away From The Multi-Tasking Trap

Multi-tasking has become such an ingrained part of our daily lives that we often don’t even realize we are doing it. Disengagement from multi-tasking will take some mindfulness and intentional observation of your own behaviors. When you set out to engage in a task, put aside all other distractions and retrain your mind to stay on track.

You will observe your mind wandering toward the usual culprits (“did I get any new email?” “what’s happening on social media?”) but remind yourself that you will attend to these tasks later and return your thoughts to the one task at hand. This may take practice. Using a timer to designate a period of time in which you will stay focused on a particular task may be helpful.

As you become more comfortable with singular tasks,

you will likely find that your focus improves, as well as your ability to get through tasks at a reasonable speed and with more enjoyment and efficiency. You will most likely feel less stressed and will realize that your constant preoccupation was preventing you from truly connecting with your life.

we may grow to appreciate simplicity. Your relationships may improve because you engaged with others instead of only giving your divided attention.

The best gift uni-tasking may offer is clarity into what is important to you.

When you are focusing on one thing at a time, you are making that a clear priority in your life in that moment. When you have that critical “which is more important right now” conversation with yourself, your needs and values are more likely to win.

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