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How to Break the Multitasking Habit

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I read an article the other day that described how to work fitness into your day. The author suggested ways to exercise while doing other things. Boy, did it make me mad. I think (with good reason) that multitasking is for the birds! And I believe we do each other a tremendous disservice when we encourage it. It is the absolute opposite of being mindful. So, we need to knock it off.

There was a period in my life when I was constantly doing three or more things at once. I would fall into bed after an 18-hour day with my heart racing, eyes darting about, out of breath, not able to remember one moment of my day with clarity. I was doing it all, yes, that was true. And I was fit, by golly!

However, there were major things I wasn’t doing. For one, I wasn’t experiencing my feelings. They were stuffed so far down I didn’t even know they existed. I was too busy doing ‘important things’ to deal with them. For two, I wasn’t doing my best at anything.

This period of my life was an intense example of some very bad quantity over quality decision-making. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t know it. So, it continued for a long time. People used to say they didn’t know how I did it all. I didn’t know either.

In my late 40s, my body started to rebel. One night, I got up from bed to go to the bathroom and wound up on the bathroom floor. I had passed out and hit my cheek on the ceramic tile step surrounding the bathtub. It led to TMJ issues with my jaw and teeth that eventually resulted in a full mouth reconstruction, after three years of chronic pain and medication. 

Around the same time, I developed vertigo, and frightening memory and neurological issues. I began to struggle with inflammation and arthritis in other joints. Acid-reflux. Depression, anxiety, exhaustion – there’s more, but you get the idea.

My body forced me to slow down.  Thank goodness for me. During the aftermath, and while continuing to deal with chronic illness, I made some changes: Surgery to minimise my TMJ misery. Ceasing all pain meds. A new job. And, yes, I stopped doing three things at once.

I learned to focus on what I was doing as it was happening because I had to. There’s a word for that now: mindfulness. I didn’t know it then. Science had not yet begun to shout at us about it yet. My body just kind of figured it out on its own.

So, science has now figured it out.  After decades of articles describing how we could ‘have it all’ and be everything to everyone by doing three things at once, the results are in and the undeniable conclusion is that multitasking is bad for us. Instead of helping us accomplish more quicker, it actually causes us to perform poorly on more tasks and complete them in a less efficient manner. In the end, we sacrifice quality, we make more mistakes, and we emerge from periods of intense multitasking stressed and unfulfilled.

Sometimes, the mistakes we make are trivial, but sometimes they can be deadly. Texting, talking, and driving is one deadly multitasking combo too many people accept as ‘normal’ If the potential consequences of being distracted aren’t enough, multitasking also makes it almost impossible to enter a state of ‘flow’ – that desirable state where we are completely absorbed and focused and don’t even notice the passing of time. That condition some describe as happiness. So, ask yourself.  Have you recently:

  • Talked on the phone while shopping?
  • Monitored text messages or emails while in a meeting or a class?
  • Done work while getting a pedicure?
  • Read or texted or talked on the phone while eating?
  • Watched a movie and read a magazine at the same time?

Stop. Doing. It. Now. It’s taxing your body and your mind. And it’s rude to only give part of your attention to the people participating in those texts, phone chats or whatever. And your co-workers – those poor people! Not to mention those who are sitting at the kitchen table trying to share a meal with you. 

We all deserve better. We deserve to be in the moment, and to have others there with us.

To notice the sighs and pauses and emotions behind the words our friends and family are sharing.  We need to sense the texture and flavours of the food we’re eating. And to feel the sensations of that glorious foot rubbing and scrubbing during our pedicure.

Most importantly, we should be looking into the eyes of the people around us as we share conversation, not looking at our phones or reading the newspaper. Because this is where the beauty and depth and richness of life is. In doing one thing at a time and doing it well, and more mindfully then we ever have before. Realising, all the while, that we and all those in our lives, are so much more than enough.


Image credit: Freepik

Joan Senio is a mental health blogger who runs My Best Friend Adeline. She is a wife, mother, sister, daughter, godmother and aunt. 


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