Thoughts on Multitasking and Over-Stimulation

Photo credit: Maisoue Yang |

Photo credit: Maisoue Yang |


“You’re not even listening to me.”

I look up from my phone and he’s starting to turn away.

“I am,” I swear and lower my cell phone--and Facebook--but I don't actually turn either off.   “I swear I am.  Just because I'm on my phone doesn't mean I'm not listening to you.  Tell me again.  Please?”

Alex takes a deep breath and tells me the story again, and I force myself to listen to every single word as I’m uber-aware of the cell phone in my hand.  I struggle to catch the whole story and barely make it to the end.  Once at the end, I offer a quick comment about the story to show him that I was listening and to prove to myself that I am not the most horrible person in the world.  Then I return to my phone and Facebook.


What. The. Heck.

What is wrong with me?  Why do I have this incessant need to constantly stimulate my mind, to have two or three things going on at the same time?  Why can't I sit still and give five focused, uninterrupted minutes to my husband?  

Alex and I have been together for over ten years.  When we first started dating, I plastered our pictures all over Myspace because it was the only social media platform.  We would talk for hours on the phone--hours--giving each other our full attention.  Heck, I would've dropped just about anything to have five minutes with him.  What happened?

Well, ten years happened, and in those ten years, technology changed a lot.  Social media changed a lot.  There are more platforms than ever and more people are buying into the whole if-it's-not-on-social-media-then-it-didn't-really-happen thing.  To make the situation worse, we all have mini-computers in the palm of our hands.  We have instant access to social media, our email, news, and the whole damn Internet.  Every time someone posts on social media we get a ding and automatically reach for our phone.  We're always plugged in, we're always stimulated.  

Is it safe to say we have become addicted to over-stimulation?

I mean, when was the last time you had lunch without scrolling through your phone?  And the real question is, when did it become uncomfortable to be without your phone?  To be unplugged and in the silence of your own mind?  

As it turns out, nothing is wrong with me, but something is very wrong with the way I view multitasking.  Something is very wrong with my acceptance of over-stimulation.


Multitasking is a myth.

What?  If you’re surprised by this, you’re not alone.  I first read about the myth of multitasking in the book The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results.  It confused me.  I always thought multitasking was an asset, a skill that I should put on my resume right underneath “ability to do everything in the whole wide world”.  I mean, doesn’t everyone want to hire someone who could do multiple things at once?  It’s like a superpower.

Until you mix it with a smart phone, i.e. a hand-held computer, and a perfectionist.  Then you get a mess.

Earlier this year, I wanted to read every bestseller (At one point, I was “reading” five books at the same time!), learn watercolor, make cute little cross-stitch ornaments for Christmas, write a novel, binge New Girl, grow my Twitter following, grow my Instagram following, blog--jeez, just listing all these things makes me dizzy.  

In fact, a few months ago, my brain fried.  I had a terrible migraine and had to stay home from work for two days.  As I lay in bed in the dark, hoping the world would stop spinning and my stomach would stop wanting to hurl everything, I had a thought.  I was doing too much, and my mind had finally had enough.  

Multitasking isn't a superpower, it's a time-waster and a migraine inducer.

Multitasking means doing more than one thing at the same time with the same amount of resource.  This word was designed for computers.  Yes, COM-PU-TERS.  And even computers have a hard time with this.  Have you ever tried backing up your data and opening up Adobe Illustrator and Youtube at the same time?  The computer freaks out.  So if a computer--which we've built to handle multitasking--is having a hard time with multitasking, then we humans can be sure that multitasking is not for us.  


Focusing on multiple things reduces productivity.

Have you ever been in the zone?  When you’re in the zone, when you’re deep inside a project, and everything is just coming easily from your mind onto paper or video or whatever you’re working on, it’s because you’re just focusing on that one thing.  And do you notice that when someone interrupts you, it pulls you from the zone and you find yourself having to work your way back into the zone?  Sometimes, you never make it back and you have to call it quits on that project for the day.  Or you end up half-assing it until it’s done.  

The authors of The One Thing argue that this is one of the reasons why multitasking doesn’t work.  You waste so much time transitioning between your activities that you don’t get anything done.  Or if you do get stuff done, it’s all half-assed (to put it bluntly).

So those five books I was trying to read at the same time?  I only managed to finish one of them.  I gave up on the rest.


Focus on the one thing instead.

The authors of the The One Thing have found that instead of trying to do a million things at once, focus on just one thing.  Not just any thing, though.  They suggest finding “the ONE thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary.”  When you do this one thing, it’ll create a domino effect, making everything else easier to topple.  

Take Harry Potter for example.  The books led to the movies, led to toys, led to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (the amusement park at Universal Studios) and then a play.  I’m going to take a wild guess that JK Rowling didn’t envision the amusement park before the books.  Instead, she focused all her attention on just the books first, and they led to everything else.  

My one thing is to get rid of social media on my cell phone.  I haven’t quite gotten to taking the apps off my phone yet--taking baby steps here--but I’ve turned off notifications for all of them.  It’s hard to quit cold turkey.  However, just turning off notifications is helping me to focus on whatever task I have at hand--like reading several chapters of a book without going online or writing a post without stopping every two seconds.  My favorite, though, is watching TV with Alex without thinking about what else I could be doing.  Or listening to him talk about his successes for the day without itching to check Facebook.  


We could all be more like a bee.

Or more like JK Rowling, I suppose.  As I’m writing this post, bees are buzzing outside my kitchen window collecting nectar from the Indian Hawthorn bushes that grow there.  Did you know that worker bees--the bees we see gathering nectar--are female?  They’re responsible for a lot things, including building the hive, protecting it, and managing how many eggs the queen lays.  These responsibilities are divided among the worker bees by age.  The youngest bees clean the hive and help feed the queen and the larvae.  The bees who are out gathering nectar are mature and nearing the end of their lives, and at this stage, they have just one responsibility: gathering nectar and pollen for the hive.  A worker bee is not trying to read emails on her cell phone while listening to her husband and watching New Girl.  A worker bee is focused on just one thing, and that is something that we can all learn to do better in this age of busyness.  

What is the one thing you're doing in order to make everything else easier?  Comment below.