For years it was like a ‘badge of honour’ that I wore with great pride.
Quite bluntly it is a pre-requisite for working as a journalist in a television newsroom. And, for me, that’s likely where it started.
Honing and sharpening of the skill continued as a young mother, then as an entrepreneur, then as a parent working outside the home 4 days a week, and running a side business.
The influx and influence of technology took this skill to epic levels. Suddenly the ability to be ‘mobile’, not tethered to a desk or space was both freeing and electrifying in terms of ensuring uninterrupted productivity.
It started with the ‘built-like-a-mini-barbell’ cell phone way back when, graduated to a Blackberry in my case, and then to a smartphone (it took a while to have that Blackberry pried away from my digits).
And, there has been no looking back. That is, until recently.
Conducting a business call on the phone while feeding a child, watching a news report and listening for the laundry signal — certainly had multiple senses and body parts keenly activated and operating — at the same time.
In fact, it got to a point where doing only two things at once did not provide an adequate challenge, thrill or accomplishment.
That is, until recently.
OPTIMAL BRAIN FUNCTION
During an interview a few months ago, an expert on organization divulged that our brains are constructed only to remember what can ‘fit on a square post-it note’. Think about that small piece of real estate. It’s microscopic.
As I analyzed this new learning further and did more research, it all made perfect sense. It led by to actively re-evaluate the benefits and disadvantages of taking on varied, multiple tasks at the same time, especially as a parent.
A recent study revealed that only 2.5 per cent of the population can multitask effectively.
Even before that discovery, though, I WAS SOLD.
As a result, it both shocks and pains me to admit that I have and am actively purging multitasking from my suite of skills.
It just does not make sense to me anymore, whereas once upon a time, it was the only thing that made total sense — to both survive and thrive.
Multitasking is no longer optimal for me because it:
- increasingly hinders productivity
- competes for attention thereby splintering focus
- comprises quality; actively preventing my best work
- promotes the threat of veering off into a tangent that could last unnecessarily long
- contributes to my increasingly feeble memory (once a force to be reckoned with)
- inhibits efficiency rather than improving it
- detracts from meaningful conversations
So, as an antidote to multitasking, I now employ these tactics:
- block chunks in my calendar for individual tasks
- turn off notifications on my phone for whole parts of the day
- limit the number of times I check my devices
- severely limit time scrolling social media (already not much; now even less)
- strive for 3 to 5 items on a daily to-do list (hide the other 30+ items where they cannot be seen)
- daily morning meditation (new for me)
- leverage ‘quiet’ time as truly quiet
- start and finish a task, where possible, in one sitting
- celebrate focused thinking and action
- schedule themed tasks during a specified time, weekly
All of the above-mentioned small steps really do add up to a whole new perspective that promotes clarity, better concentration, thoughtful and intentional action.
On another level, collectively, these also allow for ‘living in the moment’ — certainly a gift bestowed to the world by this pandemic and hopefully sustained well past COVID-19’s presence.
DRIVERS OF DISTRACTION
Additionally, I cannot help but think as I often have in the past, about just how much we have and are taxing our brains — almost treating them like mini computers — during this age of knowledge and information.
When you stop and truly think about it, the intake, processing and outputting of data that we undertake using our grey matter is astounding and not sustainable. It can certainly be both a blessing and a curse, if not managed or acknowledged.
And over time, you have to think that it can only hinder wellness and mental health. I would suggest the latter is well underway in society today.
Science continues to unearth new findings in this area as it relates to multitasking, distractions and memory loss.
As a slave to evidenced-based anything, I am paying close attention to these findings and others, while being proactive about minimizing any negative effects on my own health.
After all, cognitive impairments, including the skyrocketing cases of dementia that are being forecast, must have some of their roots in this area, couldn’t they?
Another wonderful benefit of, let’s call it, ‘uni-tasking’ is its impact on conversations — whether in-person, on the phone or online (with or without video). There is so much to note when we give our full and undivided attention to relationships, especially as parents.
The cues from our children are there for us to notice, acknowledge and perhaps even discuss — should we choose to do so. By the way, no one knows better than a child, when their mom or dad is distracted and not paying full attention. And the beauty is, they will often call us out on it.
In the meantime, it all starts with an active awareness of the distractions, an insatiable appetite for clarity and the ultimate pursuit of better focus across the board.
The pandemic might not be the best time to re-evaluate multi-tasking for many parents juggling virtual learning, working from home and reduced child-care options.
It is likely a good a time as any however to quietly reflect on it.