Multitasking is bullshit


If we want the best outcomes, we have to take the best actions.

We can’t take the best actions unless we understand the situation.

We can’t understand the situation unless we pay attention to what’s going on.

We can’t pay attention to what’s going on without focus.

We can’t focus on more than one thing at a time.

If we want to take the best actions, we need to stop trying to do seven things at once.

Multitasking is bullshit.

Stay on target

We’re easily distracted and sidetracked from our goals. We’re in our phones, in TV, in anywhere but the here and now.

Two things can help to prevent this:

  1. Knowing what’s important enough to pay attention to
  2. Being able to recognise when we’re distracted and coming back to focus

The first is fundamental, but frequently overlooked. We often don’t even acknowledge that something is important to us and worthy of achievement.

This is true not just of lofty goals, but also the nitty gritty of day to day life.

The dishes won’t wash themselves. The washing won’t hang itself out. Unless we accept that these are important enough to get done, then we won’t do them either. We’ll wake up in the morning to a messy kitchen and a pile of damp laundry.

The second is a little trickier, because it’s a product of our moment to moment awareness. It’s simple, but not easy. Like focussing on our breath.

Most of the time that we’re distracted, we’re not even aware of it. Distracted is pretty much our default state.

Being able to recognise distraction and let it go is skill, we build it up over time. And it’a skill worth cultivating. The more we pay attention, the more we realise just how distracted we often are.

The more we can identify our true intention, and then stay close to it with a gentle focus, the more likely we are to spend our time and attention on what is truly important to us.

Make some space to care

llama-flame-by-ana

Our time is under pressure and we rush from one task/meeting/thought to the next.

We often provision enough time to do something, but not enough time to care about it.

We get a lot done this way, sure, but what does this rushing cost?

  • We write the email, but don’t give it that final once-over
  • We’re asked for an opinion and we give an impulsive reaction
  • We act and respond out of habit, rather than authenticity

The world is constantly experiencing a version of us, and our work with less care than we might like to give.

And right now, the world feels like it could use a little more care, not less.

Now, it isn’t practical for us to agonise over every word, tweak every pixel and second-guess every thought.

But what if we left space for:

  • one last look after we think something is ready to go?
  • one more beat to properly understand the question?
  • one more moment to apply the full force of our effort, attention and focus?

What would be the value of making space for just a little more care?

Turning the right wheel

dashboard-by-frank-dibona

When we’re grasping at the past or pining after the future, we’re essentially yanking on a steering wheel that’s not connected to what we’re trying to influence.

We turn it this way and that, hoping to have some impact, but it only takes a small dose of perspective to realise how futile (and ridiculous) this is.

The wheel is however, connected to the present moment and every turn we make has an impact right now. Being deliberate and attentive to what’s happening right here and now is the only way to both steer our ship in the present moment and to have any influence over our future.

Don’t get hijacked

lego-by-randen-pederson

It’s amazing how often we get hijacked and pulled away from the reality of a situation.

It’s hard to describe this without it sounding like an abstract problem, but it’s real. It’s just difficult for us to notice.

Our emotions and thoughts get snagged on something that we’ve seen, heard or felt. Once caught they start to extrapolate and iterate that thought or feeling.

The problem is that our brains focus on what our thoughts are saying instead of what is actually happening around us. We miss out on actual experience.

Let’s ground this in an all-too-painful reality.

Imagine that you’re tiptoeing through from your bedroom to the kitchen in the middle of the night to get a drink. You don’t want to wake anyone up, so you don’t turn the lights on and you try to move quietly.

As you creep to the kitchen, you’re completely engaged in the situation. You’re aware of the space, the noise, the light, the objective. You’re fully present and engaged with the reality of the moment.

Unfortunately for you, someone has left a half-constructed lego model on the floor. You bring your bare foot down to the floor, putting all your weight on a jagged wreck of sharp plastic.

Pain shoots up your leg, and as it does, you are immediately hijacked by your thoughts. Your sensory awareness of your surroundings contracts as your brain instantly reallocates resources.

Firstly, you focus on the pain. But that quickly becomes an investigation into who left the lego on the floor. Then an exploration of what kind of punishments they deserve, a curse on the evils of geometry and a longing for the Danes to make their plastic bricks out of something more forgiving.

This process of thought and feeling has whisked you off on a flight of fancy so compelling, you fail to notice the second half of the model on the floor which you quickly find with your other foot.

Rinse and repeat.

This is an overly-physical example to exaggerate how the process occurs, but it works just the same for mental or emotional triggers. Something sets us off, we disengage from our surroundings and follow a chain of thoughts and feelings down the rabbit hole, away from reality.

Now here’s the kicker.

While it sounds like something that only happens when we step on lego, or get triggered by something shocking- it’s actually more frequent than that.

It’s actually happening more often than not. That is, we spend more time engaging with our thoughts about what’s happening, than we do with what’s actually happening.

It sounds ridiculous and you might not believe that you spend so much of your life disengaged, but you only have to pay attention to your thoughts to understand how true it is.

Pay attention to how often you’re fully engaged in what you’re doing, and how often you’re often you’ve been hijacked. How often your attention is focused and in command or all your resources, and how often it’s elsewhere.

That’s not to say that we’re not doing things in the real world while this is happening. All too often we are doing something else, and that’s the scary thing. We’re driving, talking, cooking or eating. We’re in a meeting or we’re talking to our partners or children. We’re there, but we’re not really experiencing the moment. We’re not actively aware.

Our autopilot is keeping us from crashing while our thoughts and feelings run away.

This is the heart of mindfulness. It’s not about sitting cross legged on the floor chanting some mystical mumbo jumbo, it’s about being aware and engaged in what you’re doing.

It’s about not following thoughts down the rabbit hole.

It’s about experiencing what’s actually happening, instead of just thinking about it.

It’s also about remembering to get your kids to pick up their lego.