If your life’s a circus, you’d better learn to juggle | Thedownside of multi-tasking

The cost of multi-tasking: Do you do any of the following? <ul> <li>Check your email/phone/facebook every few minutes</li> <li>Watch TV whilst surfing the net</li> <li>Talk on the phone whilst eating/cleaning/emailing</li> </ul> If so, and you feel a weird combination of fear, loss, and lack of attention when no one contacts you; or you find yourself slightly manic at the prospect of having nothing to do. Then the problem may be that you’re living life on auto-pilot. Of not being present/conscious, or aware of what you're doing.

Do you do any of the following?

  • Check your email/phone/facebook every few minutes
  • Watch TV whilst surfing the net
  • Talk on the phone whilst eating/cleaning/emailing

If so, and you feel a weird combination of fear, loss, and lack of attention when no one contacts you; or you find yourself slightly manic at the prospect of having nothing to do. Then the problem may be that you’re living life on auto-pilot. Of not being present/conscious, or aware of what you’re doing.

Multi-tasking is a division of attention, applying it proportionally to a number of active tasks. But it comes at a cost.
“Jack of all trades, master of none” – anon

In practical terms, one of my personal criticisms of multi-tasking (particularly in the professional sphere), is that dividing our attention is akin to diluting our concentration. Not being focussed on a task leads to errors, misunderstandings, loss of opportunity, and a general lack of awareness of our own lives and of what we’re doing and why.

On paper, it could be argued that multi-tasking is suited to mundane, repetitive, routine tasks where our undivided presence is not necessarily required. But really, I can’t think of any examples where this is true, and if you are working or living in this way, wouldn’t it be better to try and change the tasks or activities themselves?
“There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way” – Buddha

The second cost is larger, darker, and more nebulous. It’s the effect multi-tasking and (its concomitant ugly sibling) lack of awareness has on our state of mind, our psyches, our overall well being.

Driven by the ever present pressure to do more, faster, we begin to automate our lives, and worse, our thinking. It’s quicker, easier, and more efficient ‘to do’ than ‘to think’. In the short term this may lead to significant increases in personal productivity. But like the old Soviet shoe factories that churned out millions of size four left footed shoes, you end up being more efficient, but less effective, and usually unhappy.

Many of us sit at the feeding trough/battery cages of our offices/desks pecking at the send-receive button for more stimulation, without which we feel desperately anxious. Not stopping to think if this is worthwhile, productive, or if it makes us happy.

Multi-tasking exists in a binary state. You either do it, or you don’t. So what would happen if we just stopped? If we took one thing and did it will full attention, awareness, and concentration? What would happen if we checked our email just once every working day? What would happen if we stretched this awareness fully into all aspects of our lives?

Have the courage to try it with me? Let me know by completing the comment form below.

SS.//

Further reading

Seeking. How the brain hard-wires us to love Google, Twitter, and texting. And why that’s dangerous.

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