I planned to take a nice, reflective walk in the woods today, but it’s kinda rainy. On the other hand, I think the rain will probably keep the meth addicts out of the woods (don’t ask), so maybe this is the perfect day to stroll under some dripping leaves?
I’ve mentioned before that I’m a pretty nefarious multi-tasker. I practice Zumba on my long commute to work. I read and eat. I blog and eat. I listen to Christmas music and do chores. I feel like if I’m not doing 2, preferably 3, things at once, I’m wasting time.
Who here doesn’t throw in a load of laundry while they’re cooking dinner, catch up on phone calls while they’re straightening up the kitchen, fold the laundry during tv time or scan the iPhone while on the ol’ porcelain throne? Did I lose you on that last part? Hey, God invented WiFi for a reason, don’t judge. 😉
It turns out that maybe we’re really not so good at multi-tasking as we think.
“People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves,” said neuroscientist Earl Miller. And, he said, “The brain is very good at deluding itself.”
Miller, a Picower professor of neuroscience at MIT, says that for the most part, we simply can’t focus on more than one thing at a time.
What we can do, he said, is shift our focus from one thing to the next with astonishing speed.
“Switching from task to task, you think you’re actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you’re actually not,” Miller said.
“You’re not paying attention to one or two things simultaneously, but switching between them very rapidly.”
It’s really ironic why I started thinking about this subject at all — I was listening to Marshall Goldsmith’s What Got You Here Won’t Get You There while driving to work (multi-tasking!) and he talked about the importance of attentive listening. When we’re in conversation with people and we do other things — check email, text, read the paper — it tells the person who is speaking that we really don’t value them enough to focus exclusively on them.
I’m so guilty of this, but it’s not that I don’t value the person speaking, it’s that I’m just in the habit of doing multiple things at once and I’m genuinely uncomfortable only doing one thing at a time. Of course, my intentions don’t matter, it’s other people’s perceptions that matter. And since I do this the most to a rather handsome AntiRat, it needs to change!
Goldsmith offers this exercise to test your ability to focus on what others say: Close your eyes and count to 50 without thinking about anything else. Just focus on counting. If you can’t focus on your own thought exclusively, you probably aren’t focusing on other peoples’ words exclusively either.
I did this exercise on a bathroom break (multi-tasking! Am I really so busy that I need my bathroom time to catch up on my to-do list? Really?) and the funny thing is that I found focusing exclusively on counting extremely relaxing.
Quieting the clutter in my mind, even for 50 seconds, felt extremely refreshing. I know that meditation is supposed to be great for stress levels, but as soon as I sit still I either fall asleep or my head starts going off like a pinball machine. I know not everyone is like me — some people meditate quite easily — but for those of you who have trouble meditating, why not try focusing on one thought at some point during the day?
Some people use an affirmation or a prayer. I liked using the counting method because it’s so second nature.
I think this exercise kills several birds with one stone (agh! Multi-tasking!): First, meditation is a stress-reliever. And multi-tasking is actually stressful. Second, you train your mind to focus on one thing at a time. Third, you test your attentive listening skills, which really has nothing to do with making you more focused and efficient (and less stressed), but I just can’t help accomplishing multiple things at once, so there you go!
Are you a single-tasker or a multi-tasker? Is it just me, or does it seem like women are primarily multi-taskers? I don’t notice men juggling as many tasks at the same time as women do. Maybe I’m biased. 😉