I realized recently that I’m compulsive (obsessive maybe?) with my multitasking. I’m always looking for the shortest route available or the ‘path of least resistance.’ While driving, this can be knowing the turns on a route ahead of time. At home, it often manifests in my triaging my household chores by mapping the most efficient path to pick up various items. I cook and clean while I make phone calls and I also charge my various electronics while I’m in the shower. In some cases this can be effective — such as charging one thing while I’m doing something unrelated — but when it comes to tidying that’s not the case.
For example, if I’m trying to pick up the house (taking a straight path from the living room to the bedroom) I have two options. I could either pick up a few things at a time to take to the bedroom, or I could do it I one big swoop. However, if do it in one go, by the time I make a mental map of my route and balance everything I’m carrying I may have been able to come back two or three times already.
When it comes to work habits this can be detrimental as well. Even as I write this post I currently have 31 tabs open on my computer. Three of those tabs are articles relating to the research the benefits and fallacies of multitasking. The rest of them, well, they’re whatever has popped into my head since I opened my computer.
Obsession with thinking ahead and goal oriented tasks is attached to a multitude of psychological aspects and disorders. Our neural circuits control repetitive behavior like eating, and tasks such as cleaning and grooming. In fact, an absence of food can trigger common OCD behaviors in mice.
Sometimes I feel like superwoman when I’m multitasking. Other times though I feel like it holds me back. And I’m not the only one.
It becomes difficult to focus our attention on one thing at a time when we’re used to multitasking. Oftentimes I feel like I can’t give my undivided attention to anything at all. This issue is amplified by already having ADD. This can be hard because I put so much value in my connections with others. All too often I find myself making my partner repeat himself because I realize I wasn’t paying attention. It’s a bad feeling.
We have the ability to correct compulsions like these through mindfulness. If we can accept that it’s become a problem then we can take steps to correct it. Research show that multitasking is really only effective if you’re doing two things at a time. Any more than that, and you run the risk of losing your efficiency.
More worrisome and the part that I truly take to heart is the negative (and permanent) effect that multitasking can have on our brains. Having our activities and thoughts constantly interrupted contributes to higher levels of stress and lower levels of grey matter in our brains than those who focus on tackling single tasks. It’s hard to ignore the detrimental effects multitasking can have, especially for those of us with children. How can we teach them to perform at a high level without encouraging bad habits? Not to mention that children ape what they see their parents doing.
Mothers have it almost worse than anyone when it comes to high expectations of output. Where there is a mother there are sure to be close to half a dozen tasks being attempted at once. Surprisingly thought, men have it worse. According to an article on Inc, “For men, multitasking can drop IQ as much as 15 points, essentially turning you into the cognitive equivalent of an 8-year-old. Don’t be surprised when you find yourself stocking up on pop rocks.”
Steps to becoming more mindful in your focus during work and household tasks include:
- Accepting that our brains are not meant to multitask and that when we do think we’re multitasking, we’re actually just switching our focus quickly between interests and tasks.
- Scheduling time for checking things like e-mails and texts.
- Reserving that binge of your favorite show for after you complete your chores (or blog post 🙂 )
- Most of all, committing yourself to focusing on one thing at a time. In other words, make your list, check it twice, and tackle those line items one by one until you’re done!
Are you compulsivly multitasking? In your experience how do you think this is problematic or beneficial?