I have a bad bruise on my left arm. It’s several inches wide and currently fading from blue to brown. It looks like it hurt. It probably did hurt. I have no idea, however, because I have no idea what caused it. This is a bad sign, my friends. It means that I’ve been in a fog, on autopilot, and not fully aware of I’m doing. It means that I’m hurtling my body through space and time, occasionally ramming into things, and it doesn’t even penetrate my awareness.
I’m sure there are several reasons that I’m distracted, but I’m going to blame a big one, one of the biggest culprits for many of us– Multitasking.
We all think we’re good at multitasking, right? Turns out we’re not. Say, hypothetically, you’re balancing a laundry basket on your hip while holding a cup of coffee. While talking to your spouse. And checking your email on your phone. And closing the dishwasher with your foot. And then you’re surprised when the coffee gets spilled and you have no idea what your spouse just said.
Check out this article with the sobering title, Multitasking Damages Your Brain and Career, New Studies Suggest. People who regularly multitask with media, like using their phone while watching TV, experience detrimental physical changes to their brains that are visible on brain scans. The mere presence of your smartphone reduces your brain power. Multitasking, especially when our phones are involved, decreases our self-awareness, makes us less smart, and damages our brains and relationships. On top of all this, I’m afraid I’m missing my own life. It’s ironic, isn’t it? That by trying to stuff too much into time–too much doing and not enough being–it all slips away. This has to stop.
But here’s the thing– there’s not really such as thing as multitasking. In reality, we’re always single-tasking, but since we’re rapidly shifting our attention from one task to the next, we’re creating the illusion of multitasking. And this constant shifting of attention is stressful and draining and results in subpar results in every area. It erodes our will power and self control.
And so, I am on a single-tasking mission. Sustained single-tasking that is, with fewer shifts in attention. And, you guys, I can’t believe how hard it is. I have to manage myself like a toddler, making sure I’m well rested and well fed, with plenty of bathroom breaks.
There are so many times, more than I initially realized, that I am not giving my full attention to the task at hand. At the top of my list is getting my smartphone use under control. I created rules for myself, then immediately started looking for loopholes. Here’s the plan:
- Only eat while sitting at the table and not doing anything else. Coffee at the laptop is okay. (See what I mean about loopholes?)
- One screen at a time. No texting while watching a movie, for example.
- Keep the phone out of the bedroom. If it’s in the room, it’s tempting to check it first thing in the morning is not the way I want to start the day.
- Delete distracting apps off my phone.
- Set a focus timer. Depending on the task, I usually set the timer for 25 minutes, and I’m not allowed to do anything else but the task at hand. I find that I self-distract a lot, meaning that I’ll lose focus and wander off looking for a snack, check Instagram, start my grocery list, etc., when there is something else I need to be paying attention to. The timer really helps remind me to stay on task.
This is all a work in progress– time will tell if it helps me feel more aware, awake, and fully present. And maybe smarter too.
I’m curious, does anyone else find themselves difficult to stop multitasking? And have you found any tricks for getting yourself to single-task more often?