Do you ever get the feeling that multi-tasking might be one of the unhappiest things you can do to yourself?
A client call ran on longer than expected. After I had written up my notes, I switched on my links to the outside world – Outlook, the Blackberry and twitter – and a short time later, found myself having one of those surreal and lucid moments when you helplessly watch yourself doing something ridiculous unable to stop.
I was composing 3 email replies, replying to messages I’d received on twitter and exchanging instant messages with someone on BBM. Although I was, to my mind, not compromising the quality of what I was doing, it wasn’t exactly pain free and it certainly wasn’t very respectful to myself, let alone the people I was conversing with.
My mind would get a jolt as I flicked between the windows re-familiarising itself with what was going on in that particular frame. And it took me longer to actually finish and send those emails than if I’d just focused on them one at a time.
Jeffrey Guterman, Assistant Professor of Counseling at Barry University, believes that following through on one thing at a time is more productive. He pointed me to a very interesting article on How Does Multi-tasking Affect Memory?
The perils of multi-tasking
Sometimes you need to multi-task simply because you have to get lots done. Other times, you do it out of habit or because you don’t realise that you have other options. But Blind multi-tasking often makes you feel overwhelmed, jaded or lost.
Your mind is forced to store information wherever it can
Multi-tasking splits your attention. As you flit from one task to another, your mind is forced to quickly store information wherever it can. Because it hasn’t been stored “properly” it becomes harder to retrieve later. Basically, if you think of the mind like a computer, multi-tasking causes fragmentation.
But unless you are Lieutenant Commander Data, you don’t have a defragmentation button to press to slot everything back in its rightful place. So you end up getting stressed. You forget things, do rush jobs, are short to people and lose sight of the real reason that you started doing that task anyway. It becomes hard to prioritise something when you are flitting back and forth so much and so quickly that the reason for the task is not registering properly. You’re doing things “blind”.
You get a false sense of what’s important to you
Because you’re not being terribly mindful to each activity, you lose sight of your values as you judge yourself by the quantity of what you do rather than the quality.
You put the blackberry next to your plate at dinner, mull over whether or not you can get out of that meeting tomorrow, barely taste the meal that you’re eating and point half an ear to your child’s excitement (or distress) over something that happened at school.
It makes you ill
As you continue to do a hundred things at once, the stress builds up causing emotional, physical and hormonal disruptions in your body. As well as picking up bad habits like not making time to exercise or eat well, you can suffer migraines, panic attacks, low self-esteem, rage and a whole host of other symptoms.
You need to be busy because boredom too is dangerous. But you don’t need to busy yourself in a way that suffocates your potential.
It suffocates your potential
Your body puts up with a lot from you and copes remarkably well considering all the pressure you put yourself through with toxic thoughts, un-met values and consuming all the dodgy stuff they put in food, cosmetics and skin products.
But for long-term good health and well-being your mind really does need space to relieve itself from this pressure.
Ultimately, you are a spiritual being in that you feel a specialness inside you that is unique to you. This specialness is unstoppable and needs to express itself. The intrinsic nature of your inner, spiritual core is to grow and fulfil itself.
“Blind” multi-tasking suffocates this specialness. And this results in one of the unhappiest things you can do to yourself – live a pretend-busy life built on pretend-priorities based on pretend-values.
Being strategic about your multi-tasking involves awareness:
- Being consciously aware of what you are doing at any given time
- Cultivating awareness of the emotions that drive your actions
What changes can you make to make sure you don’t inadvertently suffocate your potential?