Confessions of an addicted multi-tasker…How to simplify in the age of distraction.

I’ve always been proud that I’m a great multi-tasker.  I believe that God made moms with this fabulous ability of being focused on multiple tasks at one time.

Take for instance when my daughter Holly was a baby.  With a small baby girl on one hip, I could cook for a family of five, help my son Wesley build a model of the King Ranch, help my other son Clayton with algebra homework, and fold a load of laundry…all at the same time.  That was a normal 5:00 pm ritual for me.  And I breezed through it effortlessly.  And daily…

When I was in College I took a course on business management skills.  The final exam was an office simulation.  We were systematically given multiple tasks to fulfill.   Business reports to analyze and type (on electric typewriters.)  A filing cabinet to organize and label.  An event to plan.  All tasks had to be completed within one hour.  During the hour, we also had to handle walk-in tasks (sort of like a receptionist) and answer the phone. We were given so many tasks, that it was basically impossible to finish everything. (Think Kobayashi Maru from Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn) I remember watching the student before me walk out of the simulator frazzled and in tears.  I felt pretty good when I walked out of mine.  Three days later my professor called me into his office.  He said that no other student in the history of his teaching carer had ever finished the amount of tasks correctly and in such high quality.  I was a natural.  I had no idea my great talent would also be my greatest curse.

addicted to multi-taskingFast forward 30 years.  I’m addicted to multi-tasking.  I can’t sit and watch a movie…without some other task or activity. I usually have a computer or iPad on my lap.   Unless it’s eating…  TV combined with eating is dangerous for me.  Mindless eating and watching TV creates for much over-eating and over indulgence.

My computer is another place that my excessive multi-tasking has taken over.  I have about 20 programs running at once.   While I’m working away on writing, my mail messenger sends an audible alert… I click over to see what email has come in.  Then back to work.  Then a Facebook notification shows up in the top right hand corner of my screen….I pop over to see who responded to my latest post.  My phone is next to me….and I get not only several texts, but notifications that my coach has posted a new tweet.  I stop to read the tweets.

Then I hear the buzzer in the background….my last load of laundry is dry.  So I rush out to hang up my husband’s shirts so they won’t wrinkle.  I sit back down to write some more and notice the mail man dive by.  I grab my mailbox key and head out the door.

Am I ADD? I don’t think so.  But I do believe that I’ve become addicted to doing multiple activities at once.

Are we in the age of information or the age of distraction?  I’m clearly easily distracted.  We have an endless supply of reading, unlimited shopping, chatting, gossip, news, and on and on… And a constant bombardment of notifications…  HELP!!!

In my trek to simplicity, I realized I had to do something beyond cleaning up my closet and my desk.  I needed to slow down and simplify my daily routines and habits.

Why?  Because multi-tasking can be a weakness.  It is exhausting.  It allows you to do many things at a lesser quality.  Being pulled in many directions is not a pace that can be sustained over a lifetime.

So here’s some steps I’m taking to overcome my multi-tasking addiction:

  1. Become a single-tasker. (Single-tasking is the process of limiting distractions and creating opportunity to successfully invest into one task at a time.)
  2. Discern the difference between distractions and purpose.
  3. Unplug (Being connected via phone and electronic devices keep me from fully engaging in others or my tasks.)

What are some practical steps I’m taking?

  1. I’ve unsubscribed to email newsletters.  Instead I subscribe to the blog and add it to my blog reader.  (Used to be Google Reader…but now use Feedly)  Now I only read blogs and newsletters at one sitting…with my ipad away from my desk.
  2. I’ve turned off most of my twitter notifications.  (Except for my kids)
  3. Check Email only three times per day.  I check it once in the morning before I start work.  I check it after lunch, and then around 4, when I take about an hour to respond to any emails from the day.  The rest of the time, my email program is closed and I don’t receive any notifications.  I turned off notifications on my phone as well.  No sounds alert me when an email arrives.
  4. Set up a DO NOT DISTURB on my iPhone.  From 8 pm until 8 am I don’t receive any phone calls or texts.  I do have a favorites list, that allows my favorites to call during the DND times.  Or if someone calls twice in a 2 minute time span, it sends the call through.
  5. When I’m spending time with my children or my husband, I turn my phone on silent.  I am TRYING not to read any texts or answer calls when I’m devoting time to someone else.  (Not answering a phone call is a HUGE improvement for me.)  Before we became so connected via cell phones, I was more connected in person.

As with any addiction, breaking away from multi-tasking is difficult.  As I wrote this blog, I thought about checking Facebook about a dozen times.  I even thought about checking to see if my newest client had emailed me back…  It’s all habits and I’m learning, slowly but surely, to focus.

Comments

  1. Hi Merrily, I just found your blog and have enjoyed reading a number of your posts! Multi-tasking is a difficult addiction to break. I just wrote about this in August so your title caught my eye. You gave some very helpful ideas. Thank you. Keep up the great work! I’ll be back. :-) Cindi
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