The Myth and Danger of Multi-tasking (Part 2 of 2) + Solutions!

In part 1 of this article I made the point that multi-tasking was not physically possible, an illusion that human beings had chosen to buy into. Today I'll take a look at the effects of both multi-tasking (or rather the attempt at multi-tasking) and single-tasking on your overall health. I'll also give you tips to handle the excessive amount of information coming at you daily, to make sure the electronic devices in your life don't rob you of your peace of mind.

Side Effects of (So-Called) Multi-tasking

Here are some examples:

  • Tasks take longer to accomplish (because you are not 100% focused)
  • Mistakes increase (because you’re not 100% focused)
  • Work needs to be re-done (time wasted)
  • Stress levels increase (because of all the above!)
  • Attention span shortens (this ultimately affects all areas of life.)
  • You lose the ability to focus on a SINGLE task at the time, even when that is desired.
  • A sense of always being "in the middle of something".
  • Never experiencing the satisfaction from completing a task, getting the job done.
  • Impaired memory.
  • Relationships and communication suffer.
  • Active listening is not easy to begin with, but with flimsy attention it becomes even more difficult to listen to someone express their feelings without interjecting (or checking out) and truly absorb what is said, something essential to the health of intimate relationships.
  • Creativity is lost. When we are not fully present, we begin relying on past conditioning stored in our limbic brain, to handle every day situations instead of coming up with fresh and original approaches. This leads to uninspired, mechanical living. (I doubt that Michel Angelo was discussing the weather or latest happenings in Rome with a buddy while painting the Sistine Chapel...)

Single-Tasking (i.e Paying Attention to What You Are Doing)

One thing that I don’t believe will ever go “out of style” is paying attention. As of now the human body-mind can’t pay full attention to several things at once. We cannot multi-task. Period. Therefore we ought to re-consider all this multi-tasking business and how much time/energy/memory we are wasting trying to accomplish what’s neurologically impossible. Training our brain to focus on one thing at the time, seems to be the thing to do nowadays, in order to counter the dispersing influence the internet has on our attention. Interestingly, as the use of electronic devices has grown by leaps and bounds, so has the practice of meditation. Both have been shown to affect our brain pathways. Just not in the same way.

While the internet "seizes our attention only to scatter it" (The  Shallows - Nicholas Carr), meditation invites us to gently settle down with "what is". As such, meditation is the perfect anti-dote to electronic devices' amazing capacity to scatter our attention. Meditation reigns it in and focuses it. It increases our power of concentration. In fact, one definition of meditation according to Patanjali's Yoga Sutra (3.2) is "a sustained state of concentration". Meditation makes the mind laser-like, a powerful tool to accomplish anything faster, better and more creatively.

The Benefits of Single-Tasking

  • Better concentration
  • More gets done faster and better
  • Increased creativity
  • Feeling content and complete
  • Easier access to intuitive knowledge (which requires a clear mind in order to bubble up into conscious awareness).

I am a big fan of single-tasking. It doesn't always come easy, but when I make a conscious effort to focus on one thing at the time, it amazes me how within minutes my mind feels clear and creative. We could call that state the zone, or meditation in motion.

Reflections

Over the last 5 years I’ve been spending a lot more time on my computer and I foresee that this will continue. I love my computer, I love my phone, I love the internet. All of them are fantastic tools for personal and professional development, to connect us all across the globe, spread and share our knowledge, find inspiration and even begin a revolution as we saw with the Arab Spring in 2011. But there seems to be an addictive aspect to those technologies that makes moderate usage very challenging to find. In the past I have often said, and heard people say, it is how we use technology that either renders it helpful or not. To a degree it's true. But how do you consume in moderation something that is addictive to begin with? Is it even possible? I mean, wouldn’t that be a case for the all or nothing prescription? Of course, just as with other things and substances, not everyone is sensitive to the same degree. Some people can enjoy alcohol in moderation and some have to forgo it all together. But can we nowadays do without computers, smart phones and tablets? I don’t think so. If anything, those are becoming more present in every area of our lives. So how can we get the best of this super-fast and convenient technology without losing our memory, concentration, creativity and overall quality of life ? I won’t claim to have the ultimate answer. This is a subject I continue to ponder every day as I sit...at my computer. But I do have a few ideas.

Suggestions for A Healthier Relationship With the Electronic Devices in Your Life

  • Use them intentionally! 

When you sit at your computer, or grab your phone, make sure you know why. I find it helpful to take a moment before I settle in front of my computer to determine what is the single task I want to accomplish. It needs to be realistic and specific. Then I decide if I'm going to be working on it for an hour or two or three. I imprint all those information in my brain, the task at hand and the time I want to get it done in. And you know what? It works amazingly well! That's the power of intention and clarity. If you know where you're going, you're more likely to get there.

  • Have a morning routine. 

This is essential. It means a little time first thing in the morning just for you, to stretch, breathe, meditate and start the day feeling calm and connected, to yourself that is. Before connecting outwardly, connect inwardly. In that state you are more likely to make better choices for yourself as the day unfolds, including how long to work at your computer, when to take a  break etc.

  • Have a bedtime routine.

Sleep is one of the best tools to release stress. Have a hot tea or glass of warm milk. Take a bubble bath. Read an inspirational book. And most of all disconnect from the virtual world at least 2 hours prior to going to sleep. Studies have shown that nighttime light exposure (including the light emitted by laptop, phone and TV screens) suppresses the production of melatonin, the major hormone secreted by the pineal gland that controls sleep and wake cycles.

  • Go on a digital detox once a week.

Remember what it’s like to have unstructured, computer-free time to contemplate, observe, let the mind roam free? If not, you are in serious need of a digital detox. I've noticed I get a lot of insights when I am alone, strolling, watching people. So be sure to totally unplug for at least half a day every week, maybe a full day.

In The End...
Self-care is key. If you approach your electronic devices unfocused, already distracted, uneasy in your body, surfing the net won't make things better. No technology will numb you out, disperse your attention and cause your upper back to hurt faster than the net, but only when approached mindlessly.

How do you keep your multi-tasking in check? If you have other tips, please, share with everyone in the comment section below.


Sylvie