Multitasking your life away

One of the things I used to appreciate greatly was the ability to multitask.  Doing two things in the time it would normally take you to do one seemed like a total no-brainer.  I even read an article similar to this one that talked about how children who were raised bilingually (more about that personal revelation some other time) are better able to switch between tasks (ie multitask).  I was totally convinced of my multitasking prowess.

But as I am learning about paying attention, being present, feeling the feelings and all the other recovery clichés,  I am starting to figure out that the “no brain” part might be more literal than I had anticipated.  Some time ago, I saw this startling statistic in a presentation about communicating with millennials:

It basically states that if we did all our currently simultaneous tasks consecutively, we would need an extra 6 hours in the day to get them all done! (No wonder I’m so exhausted!)  The problem is that our brains can’t actually engage in 2 things at a time, so in reality we did not gain 6 hours of productivity, but wasted 6 hours of mindless activity, distracting us from the task our brain is actually trying to work on.  Not to mention the fact that you lose focus each time you switch from one task to another.  It’s just really disturbing.

What happens in your brain, which is actually pretty cool, is that you/it fill(s) in the pieces you/it missed while focusing on the other task.  I’m sure you’ve seen some of those word puzzles floating around the internet that show how your brain is able to put the pieces together, but if you haven’t, here’s a link:

As if that wasn’t fascinating enough, this is where habits and motor skills come into the equation.  For example, you are able to walk and whistle a tune at the same time, because your body is trained to walk without having to think about it.  This is the beauty of habits and repetition.  Incidentally, this is also why you think you can drive (motor-skill) and talk on the phone (brain activity) at the same time,  except that driving situations may come up requiring your brain, which may be unavailable due to the phone conversation, which is what causes distracted driving accidents.

If you think this is interesting, I would HIGHLY recommend reading Charles Duhigg’s Power of Habitit was a recovery game changer for me, to realize that we do certain things automatically, even if they are despised bad habits, because it is too hard for our brain to have to think about every single activity.  It’s basically a survival skill.  But bringing these subconscious actions into the conscious foreground (paying attention, being curious, practicing and repeating more positive habits) does make it possible to replace the old (bad) habits with new (good) ones.

ANYWAY, what I was saying is that I started noticing more and more that I was missing information and wasn’t able to fill it in properly when I was multitasking.  For example, I’d be browsing the internet while listening to a conference call.  When I’m just scrolling and listening everything is fine, but as soon as I read a sentence in front of my eyes, I miss the words that are being said on the call.  It’s just like a black hole.  One second you hear it, the next second it is a minute later and you haven’t heard a word that was said.  It happens all the time with my husband.  He’ll be telling me something, about something… and a commercial will come on that I want to hear.  I listen to the words on the TV for one second and I’ve already missed the entire gist of what my husband was trying to tell me.  Not to mention he is frustrated, because he does not have my undivided attention.  (I don’t want to go on too long, because it’s already late, but I didn’t miss how this is exactly what happens with food.  It isn’t enough, because I didn’t actually experience eating it, because I was too busy using my brain for something else.)

The reason I’m bringing all this up tonight is that I have two posts in drafts that I REALLY want to get written and posted, but whenever I start writing about one, I start thinking about the other and formulating those thoughts into some kind of structure.  Then I switch, but as I blankly stare at a different page, I just start thinking back to the first.  The bottom line is that I think I need to give some attention to becoming more one track minded.  Doing one thing at a time (as lame as that might sound or feel at first) and focus fully on my tasks.  In everything.  Work.  Food.  Relationships.  Everything.

A really smart, intuitive friend of mine once said “If you try to catch two rabbits at once, they’ll both get away.”  So obvious, yet so deeply insightful.


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