Chances are that you’re doing something else while you’re reading this article. You might be in a meeting, working on a proposal, talking to someone on the phone, working out in the gym, having dinner, you name it.
Am I right? Even if you’re 100% concentrated on reading this article, you probably engage in some multitasking throughout your day. Most of us do. We think it’s a good thing to be busy.
But at the same time, we all have read that multitasking is not effective. In recent years, there’s been a lot of attention for the negative impact of multitasking on your brain.
In simple words: You get dumber by multitasking. The research is not pretty.
Plus, in The United States alone, $650 billion is wasted in businesses because of multitasking.
Why is it so hard to stop doing things that hurt us? All the negative effects of multitasking are not visible to us, I think.
If someone tells you: “We lose a lot of business due to multitasking.”
We think: “Sure.”
Or: “Multitasking kills your brain.”
We think: “I’m still here talking to you, right? My brain works pretty well.”
We read about it and continue to multitask our way through life. Our behavior doesn’t change.
All those things are hypotheticals—things that might happen. But what if I tell you that life is better NOW when you stop doing a million things at the same time?
First, I have a few questions for you:
- Do you ever feel restless?
- Do you feel the urge to grab your phone every 5 minutes?
- Do you find it difficult to focus on one thing?
- Do your relationships suffer from your “distracted” behavior?
- Does your work suffer from that same behavior?
If you answered yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, I have some news for you: You’re an addict.
I’m not kidding. I’m serious about this. It’s not normal if you’re always distracted or that you have an urge to give into intrusions.
In what universe is it normal to check your email every 5 minutes? Or answer immediately to texts, no matter what you’re doing? Or read the news every 10 minutes? Why do you need all those things?
I suspect you don’t have a real answer. At least, I didn’t. All those examples that I’m giving came from my own life.
I always felt on edge, like I was missing out on something. I was always thinking:
- “Are there any new emails I have to respond to?”
- “Who should I text now?”
- “What’s person X doing?”
- “Are there any new articles?”
- “Is there any new news?”
- “What happened in the NBA yesterday?”
And those thoughts popped up anytime during the day. During meetings, breakfast, lunch, dinner, work, relaxation, running, and even during sex. I was obsessed with doing multiple things at the same time.
The quality of life takes a serious hit if you’re a slave to distractions. But I believe that you shouldn’t be a slave to anything and that you should have full control over your mind. And not the other way around.
With a multitasking addiction, your mind controls your behavior. But that’s not what our mind is for.
I’m a pragmatist. And according to Pragmatism, a philosophy founded by Charles S. Peirce, the mind is merely a tool to solve problems. There is no other practical use of your mind.
So why do you let your mind take control over your actions? Not good.
Why I Stopped
If you’re used to multitasking, it’s tough to stop. You need a compelling reason.
The reason I stopped is simple: Time.
Steve Jobs put it best:
“My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.”
You might think that multitasking saves time. But it’s the opposite. Every time you switch between tasks, it takes 20 minutes to re-focus on the original task. That adds up quickly.
And because I don’t want to waste my time on planet earth, I stopped multitasking altogether.
Get Fully Engaged
One of my favorite books about habits is Daily Rituals by Mason Currey. If you don’t know that book, it’s a collection of working routines of many of the greatest minds in history.
You can read about the habits of Nikola Tesla, Benjamin Franklin, Jane Austen, Voltaire, Ayn Rand, and more than 160 others.
For instance, Freud worked sixteen hours a day, but Gertrude Stein could never write for more than thirty minutes.
A common theme for most people who are mentioned in the book is that they managed to find time for uninterrupted work. Otherwise, how do you get things done? It’s impossible.
Most of them also went for long walks, closed the door to their office for hours at a time, or had very strict daily routines. They did these things to be alone with their thoughts, find calm, or just to focus on solving problems.
When we’re truly engaged, we don’t multitask — we’re too busy with the the task at hand. And that’s one of the core problems with multitasking. We just do a bunch of stupid things at the same time.
But have you ever multitasked satisfying activities? Stuff that you’re passionate about?
I don’t feel the urge to grab my phone when I’m having an interesting conversation, or when I’m enjoying the nature, or when I’m having a great meal.
So if you don’t know what else you should do other than checking your email, the news or social media, here are some ideas:
- Go for a one hour walk without devices.
- Spend a weekend in a cabin without internet.
- Put all the TVs in the basement or attic and only read during your down time.
- Go fishing.
- Play your favorite sport.
- Take a nap.
- Write in your journal.
- Listen to an album from start to finish.
- Start a video diary.
- Write a poem for someone you love.
- Do great work.
Just be creative. Because these activities, in contrast to mindless activities, really stimulate your mind. Your mind gets stronger if you do those things. See it as exercise for your brain.
And with a strong brain, you can achieve practically anything that you can image in life. Muhammad Ali put it best:
“If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it — then I can achieve it.”
Now, you just have to believe it. One task at a time.