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The Myth of Multitasking

I’ve been having trouble completing this blog post.  I’ve been having trouble beginning this blog post.  Why, you ask?  Every time I sit down to write, something happens.  I get a phone call or a text, an email that I simply cannot ignore pops up, or a Facebook or Twitter notification comes through.  Case in point, as I write these very words, my cat is gently headbutting my hands away from the keyboard, I’m preparing hard boiled eggs, and I keep looking up to see if any new emails have appeared within the 30 seconds that I had my head down, actually concentrating on what I’m writing. Perhaps this scenario is familiar to you?  Perhaps the outcome of this scenario is also familiar; the eggs get burnt, the attention starved cat pees on the rug, and the blog post never gets started.  Despite a society attempting to provide us with more convenient ways to accomplish many tasks at one time, and employment environments that attempt to reward this behavior, I’m here to tell you that multitasking is a myth!

  • When we attempt to do several things at once, our performance suffers: There have been many research studies that demonstrate that switching back and forth between different tasks, or attempting to do more than one thing at one time has a negative impact on the tasks we’re trying to accomplish.  We might believe that we’re being more productive when we multitask, but this belief doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.  Want to learn more?  Check out what the American Psychological Association has to say about multitasking.
  • Multitasking leads to mindlessness:  When you are attempting to multitask, you’re not attending 100% to any one task.  In addition to doing everything poorly, as discussed above, you’re not actually learning how to do any one thing well, and you are losing the ability to choose what you would like to focus on. Practicing mindfulness is like working out any other muscle, it will atrophy over time if not used.  Click here to learn more about mindfulness and why it’s helpful.
  • False representations of successful multitasking lead to unreasonable expectations:  In our society, the ability to juggle many tasks and activities has become somewhat of a competitive sport.  We vie for the title of person who can do the most at one time while getting the least amount of sleep.  We then present this version of ourselves to the world via conversation and social media; it’s a false self.  Other people see the mom who does it all; she works, she feeds the kids organic, home-prepared meals, keeps an immaculate home, has a wide circle of friends, and plays a killer game of bridge.  Now read closely – she doesn’t exist!  However we think she does, so we attempt to compete.

So, what can I do about it?

  • Learn to prioritize: Don’t treat everything as though it’s equally important. Step off of the proverbial treadmill for an hour, and take a look at what truly matters to you, so that you know where to focus your energies first, second, and so on. Recognize that much like a dinner plate, there is a finite amount of space in your day, don’t overfill it!
  • Ditch the competition:  Remind yourself that Superman and Superwoman don’t exist.  What you are competing with is a figment of the imagination, and there’s no prize at the end for winning.

Feel free to post your thoughts about how to be mindful in a multitasking world!

Dr. Scrivani specializes in the Cognitive Behavioral treatment of anxiety and related disorders, and provides tele-mental health services to residents of New York and Florida.  Call (888) 535-5671 or email [email protected]  Visit Dr. Scrivani’s  iTherapy webpage to learn more.

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