The Myth of Multitasking: Stop Chasing Your Tail and Be Present
Every once in a while, I like to take a break from hard core inbound marketing topics and look at subjects such as entrepreneurship, productivity, and other more general business skills that are important to nearly any professional.
As someone who sees personal growth as a mantra, I spend a lot of time reading and considering different viewpoints. Some of those are on SEO and related topics. But in my downtime, I like to look at deeper topics such as inner peace, reducing stress, and general spiritual growth.
Several months ago, I finally decided to start reading Eckart Tolle’s book The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. I had heard great things about this book for years. After spending so much time growing Return On Now from a one-man consulting outfit into a small agency, it was time to turn back to personal growth. In the end, I figured a better me will run a better business, so off I went.
The book has been an amazing inspiration to me. Not only has it helped me approach life better in general, but it has paid off in a big way professionally.
Key Point: Multitasking is a Recipe for Disaster
In recent years, I’ve come across a spate of blog posts and articles online that shun multitasking. There are literally hundreds of monthly searches online for the term the myth of multitasking so the message has gotten out there.
Here is a sampling of some of the more intriguing articles I found online today:
- Multitasking Damages Your Brain And Career, New Studies Suggest
- Why Multitasking Is Bad For You
- Multi-tasking makes your brain smaller and could be hurting your career: Grey matter shrinks if we do too much at once
- Why Humans Are Bad At Multitasking
So there’s plenty of content out there talking about how bad multitasking is. In many of these, it talks about physiological impacts, or our inability to do it effectively in the first place. But Tolle alludes to something deeper; more esoterically focused: Multitasking is unconscious behavior.
What does it mean to say that it is unconscious? If you are familiar with Eckart’s work, you know that he espouses the act of “Being present.” This is the act of truly clearing out all of the cobwebs that regretting the past and worrying about the future introduce into the current moment. And really, as he and many other wise sages will assert – the harsh reality we all must face is that “now” is really all we have, this very moment. Everything else is merely an illusion.
How to Operate without Multitasking
So your response is probably exactly what mine was – that sounds all fine and good, but you can’t forget about the past or the future in business. We have to learn from mistakes. We have deadlines to meet. And if we don’t think ahead strategically, our business could very well falter and collapse from lack of foresight.
Take a deep breath. Let all that manic response instinct pass through you, so you can move on. There is life after multitasking. And you can succeed without overstretching yourself by trying to do too many things at one time.
The first thing to do is to take back control of your own priority list.
I understand that outside forces influence your work on a daily basis – perhaps pressures from your CEO, demanding clients, or other stakeholders in your performance. All of these factors are important without a doubt.
But are they all equally important, and also equally urgent, in your list of to-dos? Those are two variables which should help you to weigh out where and how you distribute your attention at the current moment.
Much of your ability to take control of this is about setting expectations and sticking to boundaries. Sure, there will be people with whom you cannot set reasonable expectations. CxOs are notorious for asking more than you can possibly give.
But here’s the catch – you don’t have to bow to each and every demand being placed on you simultaneously. Get accustomed to letting people down easy without saying “no” outright. There is a ton of power in “yes, but…” as a response.
How does that work? Let’s say the CEO asks you to knock out a full program for a new initiative within 48 hours. You know that it will take upward of 30 hours of work to make it happen, and also have ongoing work demands from other projects as well as personal commitments that you simply cannot get out of.
What do you do then? The wrong answer is to multitask your days and give up your sleep overnight. That’s insanity in a bottle.
The right answer? Tell the CEO the truth!
“Yes, but I will need additional time or resources to deliver on that request. Realistically, it will take 3-5 business days to do it myself, or we can split up the work between two or three people to meet your deadline. Which of these options sounds the most appealing to you?”
Perhaps the CEO still demands that you achieve the impossible. If he/she is so unreasonable as to ask something so unreasonable of you, you have the wrong job. Plain and simply. What good is work, achievement, and money if you remove days from your life and life from your days along the way? That’s more insanity in a bottle.
Get your list of tasks under control, prioritize among them, and truly be present with the tasks that you do take on. Leave the rest for later – the future isn’t here yet, and you will turn your unfettered attention to those tasks when their time comes.
Doesn’t that sound more refreshing? Life is a series of “Now”s. Make the most of each of them, eschew multitasking, and enjoy the benefits to your state of mind and your productivity. In the end, you will be more effective and efficient without incurring damaging side effects to your health or psychological well being.
If you haven’t had a chance to read any of Eckart Tolle’s work, I highly recommend it. He does a great job of relating his ideas to anyone, no matter what personality type you have or what belief system permeates your world. I am a big fan, and am looking forward to reading more of his work in the future. Next on my reading list: A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.
How do you handle multitasking? Have you tried to reduce or eliminate it? What impact have you seen from doing so?