Can we talk for a second about multitasking?
First of all, are you still doing this? If so, think about stopping. If not, gold star.
Now, a story about the whys of the above.
In my ongoing coaching relationships, I have regular weekly, sometimes daily, communication with my clients. Because of that, I often have a really good idea of what’s going on in their worlds, and I definitely get to know them a lot better. One of the clients I’ve been working with for quite some time now sent me a message the other day that first gave me a laugh, and then led to a good little life lesson.
She sent me a message saying, “Welp. My multitasking led to a boiled dry stainless steel pan.” To which I replied, “Haha. Well…I mean…I’m not sure who said anything about multitasking being a good thing, so there’s your lesson.”
Then she said, “I used to pride myself on that skill.” And then I responded, “Uh, it’s not a skill.”
Because news flash: multitasking is not a skill.
She said that her husband often tells her the same thing, and that she uses it more as a coping mechanism for her airheadedness. (Her words.) And that really pricked up my ears. So I prompted her as much.
“Wait a sec – think about that. How is adding more stuff at once better for an existing lack of focus?”
She answered that it’s not. Because it isn’t. I guess sometimes it takes a ruined piece of kitchen equipment to remember that.
The conversation around multitasking is similar to the one around hustling or productivity hacking or busy-ness. These are all things our current culture is telling us are valuable. Personally, I’ve got questions about the nature of that perceived value, you know?
I mean, really, we’re already in this place where we can’t focus on one thing for more than about twelve seconds. We are constantly task switching. We’re struggling to do anything without distracting ourselves. And yeah, we have a lot of obligations and tasks and things we want to do too, but how can trying to do them all at once possibly get us anywhere?
Again, fact is, it doesn’t. And especially if we’re already prone to that lack of focus, to fracture it some more makes zero sense. And yet – we do it frequently.
How many times have you turned on a podcast while you were doing something else? Multitasking. What about had your phone out reading emails during a meeting? Multitasking. Cleaning while having a conversation with your partner? Multitasking. It doesn’t really matter the level or amount of tasks you’re trying to combine, something is always going to give – ie: burned pan.
There are plenty of studies out there that show the detrimental affects of multitasking. It can affect our brains, our anxiety, our effectiveness, our creativity. Even when we feel those effects, we might still find ourselves stacking things together. Because more seems to be more important than anything else.
But more of what?
So in an instance above, are you really convinced that you’ll be able to learn and absorb what you’re hearing in that podcast while you try to do something else at the same time that’s also trying to engage your brain and use some of its power? Come on now. Highly unlikely. So what’s the more you’re getting out of that? If you were to switch it up and listen to the podcast when you’d be able to give it your full focus, the chances are far better you’d be able to grasp the information better and put it to practical use in your life. There’s a tipping point for this whole passively soaking stuff in thing. At a certain point, you have to actively participate.
Same with reading emails during a meeting. What more are you getting out of that? Half paying attention to each of those things will probably result in a mistake or a misunderstanding down the line. So why not turn your phone to airplane mode to give the meeting your full focus? And dedicate some time specifically to crafting thoughtful responses to your emails later? Yeah, there are a limited amount of hours in the day, but again, tipping point. At a certain point, you have to weigh the costs and benefits of focused work that matters vs. frantic work that checks boxes.
And I don’t think I really need to do much to describe the value of giving your partner your full attention, at least some of the time. The difference it will make in your relationship is profound. Trust me. It’s something I have learned by experience. Experience that makes me cringe at my inconsiderate behavior toward my partner. We all make mistakes and have our bad habits, but I’m sure I’m not the only person who knows someone who’s been surprised by a partner leaving for what essentially boils down to a lack of direct focus on the relationship itself and not everything else around it. Tipping point.
So here’s what’s at the heart of this urge to multitask all the time – a lack of clarity on priorities.
What matters. What needs focus and when, and what kind of more you’re looking for.
And because that takes effort to define, and sometimes looks far different than we expected, we avoid it. But without that clarity of priorities – what to focus on, when, and why that matters – nothing gets its proper amount of focus, and just about everything is left wanting. That includes ourselves. Our needs. And ultimately, our lives.
But what if you did do the work to determine where your focus would be best spent, when, and how? What if you took a look at why that was important for you to focus on? What if, instead of multitasking everything, you single-tasked with greater care? (Is that a thing? I’m making it a thing.)
What if, in getting clear about your priorities in life, relationships, and career, you were able to make those priorities a reality by giving them the attention and focus they deserve?
I have a sneaking feeling it’d be weird and uncomfortable and hard in the beginning, but would result in a lot more alignment and freedom in the end. Probably more ease and peace, less scrambling and overwhelm in daily life too, which I think we can all agree is a positive thing.
Bottom line? Multitasking is misconstrued into this positive thing that you’re getting more done, but it ends up leaving you with less. It’s well within your power to take control of how you get your version of more.
And you can do that – one meaningfully prioritized task at a time.
Need some help with that clarity of priorities? It’s one of my specialties. Schedule a call with me below, and let’s chat.