We are a multitasking society. I have been multitasking so long I can’t remember when I wasn’t. I have always had a great sense of pride around it and consider myself a super multitasker. For me, it probably began in high school, talking on the phone while doing homework or chores, and for some, now, in the digital age, probably younger and younger, with kids simultaneously watching T.V. and surfing on the phone or tablet. I have attributed my skill in this to greater productivity, and success, especially in my career. I now consider it more of an overused tool rather than a shining example of prowess.
We are multi-tasking more and more, especially digitally. I start early, reading and answering emails while getting ready for work, listening to music or podcasts while in the shower, juggling phone, keys and green tea on the way to the car. At work, listening to a colleague with one eye on my email or calendar, reading and answering email, while working a second and possibly third task, multiple windows open on the computer all the time. I even have two monitors setup to enhance my multi-tasking. I have always felt more productive. A big source of pride.
Recently, I’ve become more aware of this “talent” and its impact on me and those around me. Obviously when we have one eye on the phone when speaking to someone else, or, when we are talking on the phone, while simultaneously listening to a conversation, or reading a something on the screen, it is rude. Ever hear someone typing in the background while you are speaking on the phone, or like me become aware that the person on the other end of the line might hear me typing away while I am supposedly paying attention to what they are saying? I have been on both the giving and receiving end of those types of digital multitasking situations. When you are on the receiving end, it doesn’t feel good. I know it is wrong but still catch myself doing it anyway. I have been extremely guilty about this for years, understanding that it hurts feelings and dilutes communication, however, I still I keep at it. Justifying my bad behavior to myself and others because I was “checking email” or reading something important. Bah!
I am constantly doing more than one thing at a time. What should be a handy tool in the tool box, to be used only when absolutely necessary and needed, has become an insidious habit. Hypocrite that I am, I was recently discussing good customer service practices and methods with my team when I caught myself red-handed. I was talking about listening, how to be a good listener as one way to validate the other person’s perspective. Low and behold, as soon as I stopped talking and gave the floor to my team member, I picked up my phone. And while that person was speaking to me, I checked my email. Half listening. Yes, I can remember what was said, but I wasn’t fully present.
This time I stopped myself, put the phone down, started listening and later, reflected on it. This “ah-ha” moment happened simultaneously with my brand new love and enthusiasm for meditation. I realized that the only time I am ever really singularly focused is in meditation. It is the only time I am one hundred percent present. I love meditation and the feeling of being quiet and focused in the moment. Beyond the obvious rudeness in my interaction with others, when multitasking both digitally and physically, I realized that multitasking and not being present, is definitely not the path to joy and living my best life. I must be present, in each moment, to do my best work and more importantly feel the rewards from it. I must be present to feel the love and energy of being with my friends and family. Most importantly, I must be present for myself. To reap the rewards of my work, travel, my friendships and time with family, being singularly focused and “all-in” is infinitely more satisfying and joyful than being scattered and in the chaos of trying to do too much all at the same time.
I finally realized that no matter how many things I am successfully working on or accomplishing simultaneously, none of them are getting one hundred percent of me. How is that good? There is never enough time to do it all, it is never all done, there is always the next thing. Trying to give pieces of yourself to everything all at one is creating a kind of chaos that never subsides. Rarely do we actually get to feel the joyful satisfaction of a job well done because we are focused on what’s next, what isn’t done.
I am finally aware, which is the first step, as they say. I am not even close to breaking the habit, or putting this tool in the shed to be used only when necessary. I am working on it though. I’ve only picked up my phone twice while I’ve been writing this and have only read and responded to a couple of emails. I am not giving up though. I truly believe when I have put this ego driven need to multitask in its proper place and when I am consistently well and truly focused in each moment on one task, one person, one communication, life will open up. I will feel more satisfaction and will have richer relationships and experiences and be further on my path to mindful and joyful living.