In this current age of constant usage of multi media tools simultaneously: phones, computers, iPads, and T.V., plus work, plus family, multitasking has become a way of life for Western society.
Slowing down and smelling the roses has become a sentiment of the past. Perhaps reserved for retirees, yet many of them are working through retirement age and are caught up in the multi tasking fervor, also.
How did we migrate from an agrarian, mostly single tasking society into anxious multi tasking neurotics?
Well, I have my humble opinion: technology. Right now, I am writing this blog. At the same time, I have laundry washing and dinner is slow cooking. Three tasks accomplished simultaneously in the time it takes one. I am multi- tasking, technically. However, I am 100% focused on this article. I don’t have the television on, flipping to Facebook every 5 minutes, nor am I answering my phone, text messages, or tweets. I am present with the computer and writing. Hence, I would label me single tasking compared to most now a days.
“Habits develop in about 2-3 weeks for the average person. This means the distracted mind can quickly become the normal state of mind for people if they’re trying to multitask constantly. Suddenly the need to be multitasking affects every aspect of life. Instead of spending time with their family, for example, someone may need to have the TV on, be on social media, and speaking with their kids about their homework simultaneously. The greater distraction becomes silence.” 1
How sad that the greater distraction becomes silence. Yet I see this everyday working with my clients. Fifteen years ago when I was teaching meditation, people could easily sit for thirty minutes. Now, twenty minutes is a push for most. Most people begin to fidget after ten.
Why do we do this? Why have we digressed to this constant state of busyness in order to feel that we have accomplished something? Judith Lief, writing for Lion’s Roar, believes it has to do with fear. “It’s because of this undercurrent of fear. It’s as though we have to keep things moving. We have to keep ourselves distracted at some fundamental level. We have to keep our momentum going, because it’s pretty scary to think of it stopping. Once we have separation and duality, we have to maintain the momentum. The problem with ego and duality is that at some level we know it’s a sham, but we have to keep at it. So part of the undercurrent of fear is the fear of being found out, of being exposed as a big fat phony who is creating a solid illusion out of thin air.” 2
This illusion, I believe, is to be seen as something other than our true selves. An attempt to create and maintain an egocentric facade to fool the world, when in actuality, it fools no one, and will eventually disintegrate to expose us. At which point, we get to make a decision: to rebuild the facade or to accept our true nature and begin to live an authentic life.
She continues, “This undercurrent of fear lurks behind a lot of our habits. It is why it is so hard to just sit still or stand still or stand in line—not doing anything in particular—without feeling nervous and fidgety. We have a fear of being still. Understanding, examining, knowing, slowing down—those are the first steps in working with fear, the beginning of the path to fearlessness.” 3
Slowing down is one of the precepts of the mindfulness revolution. So many are hopping on board, yet find slowing down challenging, much less shifting the habit of multi tasking.
Linda Marks believes that multi tasking can create what she calls a pseudo ADD. “Taken to its full extreme, the multi-media lifestyle creates a pseudo-ADD. How we use our time, our bodies and minds wires in neural pathways that influence our ways of living and being for the duration of our lives.” 4
I find this an interesting point of view—that our lifestyle choices have created or definitely contributed to attention deficit disorder. I personally don’t think that our neurological pathways are wired to handle the constant barrage of text messages, emails, instant messaging, Instagram, tweeting and television. We are being bombarded, and our nervous system is suffering. We, as adults, must become aware of what we are doing to ourselves, the harm we are causing so we may shift this and in turn, help others and set an example for our children.
Ms. Marks continues, “In addition to hurting my brain, multi-tasking also feels bad at a deeper level. I have worked for years to be present mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. And splitting my attention in multiple directions just doesn’t feel right. If I am talking on the phone, I enjoy feeling the energy exchange with the other person. I like to be fully present to myself and to them. And if I am sharing my attention with the dishes in the sink, I am not fully present to anyone really. When I write, I go into a deep internal space, and that feels really good too. I feel creative. I feel connected. Why on earth would I want to disrupt that space to do something else? What happened to the value of “being here now?” 5
Yet currently, people like Linda Marks are regarded as low achievers. Multitaskers are coveted in corporate America, seemingly because they can accomplish the work of potentially two. However, this thinking is now being challenged. Joel Garfinkel in his article titled, “Multitasking Is Overrated: The Disadvantages of Multitasking” quotes studies supporting single tasking,“The value of multitasking is overrated. In fact, several recent studies indicate that it is better to focus on one task at a time. Multitasking has been shown to negatively impact memory and IQ, make it harder for you to learn new things, and even cause accidents, resulting in several states making it illegal to do two seemingly simple things at the same time: drive and talk on the phone.” 6
Support of Joel Garfinkel’s opinion is found on advancedlifeskills.com: “Habitual multitasking will keep you very busy, but your ability to complete even short term goals will likely be compromised. This often results in an empty feeling because you’ve been busy all day but haven’t accomplished much. Like a vicious circle, lack of accomplishment leads to frustration, stress, and a return to multitasking in order to make up for lost time.” 7
Before the advent of our modern washing machines, dryers, dish washers, and all of the computer technology, people did a couple of tasks during the day, and their schedule was full. Doing the wash took a good part of the day. Cooking dinner began at least a couple of hours before it was served. Dishes were washed and dried with family members participating. People physically shopped at a store, which could turn into a conversation with friends here and there. This took time. Single tasking was the norm and there was no pressure to accomplish more.
Technology has improved our lives in so many ways, yet it has also placed pressure on us to do more, be more, cram more into a day than what is humanly possible, to the point where if we don’t accomplish what is on our lengthy list, we feel guilt. Guilt that we weren’t a super hero that day, we didn’t leap tall buildings with a single bound.
I think this pressure and guilt is profound. I hear it daily from friends, family and clients. “I can’t take time off, I need to …” fill in the blank. Or, “ I feel like a slug, I didn’t get to…” Relax? What is that?
When a woman friend of mine remarked that she relaxed and read over the weekend, a mutual friend remarked, “Wow, I don’t even know what that is like, much less, if I could do it.” A sad realization and observation of where we are as a society.
I remember there was a commercial for a women’s perfume when I was a teenager. Enjoli it was called. It portrayed a sexy woman in a business suit with a frying pan in her hand. The jingle was “ I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never, never let you forget you’re a man. ‘Cause I’m a woman…Enjoli. The message was… super woman. I can do it all—compete in the business world, go grocery shopping, make dinner, raise the children, and then be a sexy morsel at night. I grew up with this as a benchmark, and we, as young women, were supposed to do that, be that.
Many of us have failed miserably. And rightly so. Enjoli was a fabrication of Madison ave, and not at all in alignment with human nature. And many of us have wrestled with that “failure”, of not being able to do and be all, when in actuality, we were perfect before we attempted to assume the super hero role. What I have learned is that it’s vitality important to be true to self, and live an authentic life. Patterning one’s precious journey after a Madison Avenue commercial is a prescription for unhappiness.
Rick Nauert, PHD, in his article, Excess Multi-tasking has a Downside, writes, “Social scientists have long assumed that it’s impossible to process more than one string of information at a time. The brain just can’t do it. So maybe it’s time to stop e-mailing if you’re following the game on TV, and rethink singing along with the radio if you’re reading the latest news online. By doing less, you might accomplish more.”8
Single tasking… how do we do it? Become it? For starters, expect less to be done in a day. Take your long list, and pick a couple of tasks each day. Enjoy each one, even if it’s cleaning the bathroom. And most importantly, breathe as you do it which will keep you in the present moment.
Slow down. And smell the roses once in a while!
1. Brandon Gaille, “12 Multitasking Pros and Cons”,
Jul 5, 2015 brandon gaille.com
2. Judith Lief, “Starting on the Path of Fear and Fearlessness”, Lion’s Roar, May 2017
3. Judith Lief, “Starting on the Path of Fear and Fearlessness”, Lion’s Roar, May 2017
4.Linda Marks, “The Downside of Multitasking: The Benefits of Being Present”, December 1, 2007 Spirit of Change Magazine, spiritofchange.org
5.Linda Marks, The Downside of Multitasking: The Benefits of Being Present”, December 1, 2007 Spirit of Change Magazine, spiritofchange.org
6.Joel Garfinkel,“Multitasking Is Overrated: The Disadvantages of Multitasking”,careeradvancementblog.com/disadvantages-multitasking
7.”Why Multitasking is a Poor Approach to Productivity”, advancedlifeskills.com
8. Rick Nauert PhD, ”Excess Multi-Tasking Has Downside”, psychcentral.com