The Perils of Multitasking
I have always considered myself to be a good multitasker. At work, I can usually manage to keep many balls in the air – typing a letter while answering the phone, setting up the ever-changing schedule while taking multiple phone calls and texts, completing payroll in the midst of doctors stopping in and asking questions and the ever ringing phone… Sure, there is the occasional mistake. I am human, after all.
The multitasking train continues at home where there are chores to be done, tv shows to watch, Facebook posts to read, online shopping to complete, and somewhere in there I need to make time to finish the book I am writing and learn to knit.
Some people even take their skills on the road and drive while texting, eating, writing a business report, applying mascara – you name it and we have probably seen it on the morning drive!
But lately, I have been feeling overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle. My brain feels like it is trying to put on the brakes and focus a bit more. The question is, should I let it?
If you google “multitasking,” you will find many articles that will tell you it is a myth. Very few people can truly multitask successfully. One study in Business Insider states that by splitting our attention on a multitude of tasks, we may feel like we are accomplishing more, but we are actually decreasing our productivity by 40%! It is equivalent to losing a night’s sleep.
Another article in Forbes points out that our short-term memory can only handle five to seven bits of information at a time. “When you’re trying to accomplish two dissimilar tasks, each one requiring some level of consideration and attention, multitasking falls apart. Your brain just can’t take in and process two simultaneous, separate streams of information and encode them fully into short-term memory. When information doesn’t make it into short-term memory, it can’t be transferred into long-term memory for recall later.”
Technology only makes this worse. How often do you see people in the middle of checking out at the grocery store and they are talking on their phones or texting? Not only is it rude, but it slows down the whole process. Or, you are speaking with a person in their late teens and they are simultaneously having a text chat with a friend on their phone. Can they honestly say they are fully participating in your conversation?
Kids seem to start early with the phones and iPads and computers. Perhaps our multitasking society has created a generation of children with ADD, or perhaps they are just a product of the technology that allows them to be connected 24/7. (Did that just make me sound really old?) 🙂
I recently read an article on Writer Unboxed called “Monotasking: The Forgotten Skill You (and I) Need to Reclaim, ASAP”. I was looking for something to tell me how to turn it off and slow down. The author started by saying that lately she found she is unable to read. Read! Oh my gosh – that is me! I have been flitting from one project to the next, starting a book and setting it down… Very unlike me. I am a voracious reader and usually get through one to two books per week.
I immediately started wracking my brain to remember the last book I actually read completely without starting five others in the middle… months. It has been months. 😦 The problem is that we are too scattered with our multitasking brains and we have lost the ability to truly focus on one thing at a time.
This is one reason I am trying to learn knitting. It is a meditation of sorts. However, I admit, it is a meditation I do with a lot of background noise so my brain is still multitasking when I do it. Reading, though, is something I have always been able to just separate myself from the world in, and I am devastated to think this skill is gone.
Creativity needs focus, too. In many ways, I have been struggling with my book project and I think it can all be blamed on the inability to focus on each small task without being overwhelmed by the whole project. I have many reasons to figure out how to monotask again.
The author of the article on monotasking did say that there are ways to restore our attention and strengthen that ability. I plan on working on that immediately! Now, where is my book?! 🙂