Let me just start by telling you two important things about myself - I'm an overachiever and I'm a mom. That means, I am conditioned to value achievement and doings over calm and relaxation - AND I have a hell of a lot of things to do. Probably more things than most people - because I choose that life, because my expectations on myself are high. I wanted to have it all, and I thought that by going all out, on all fronts I could. I wanted to run my own business, and still be the main caregiver for my kids. I wanted to bake cookies with them after school, read them stories and catch up on emails at night. I believed I could cut back on sleep, cut back on friends, cut back on me.
My belief system kept on telling me that the more I did, the better I was. The negative side effects of multi-tasking took a long time to become apparent.
Having small kids trained me hard at multitasking - brushing my teeth while making lunches, getting everyone dressed and out of the house, planning phone calls for the commute. Those mornings made showing up at the office feel like a holiday. "Does everyone see how I'm pulling this off?" I came to call multitasking the efficiency disease - planning every minute - actually double-planning - to fit in all in. This robbed my life of joy, and in a sad way, I came to accept this as the price I needed to pay to have it all.
Over time, it felt normal to do many things at the same time - it was a bad habit I'd trained, reinforced by some false belief systems, and a potent hormone cocktail of dopamine and cortisol that kept me rushing around doing more, in a foggier brain state. Despite displaying some (many?) of these side effects - Memory loss, difficulty recalling words in conversation, loss of focus - I still somehow believed I was being efficient.
Studies show exactly the opposite is taking place: multitasking lowers your IQ, similar to the effect of missing a night of sleep.
"When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.” - Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at MIT via The Guardian
But it was the worst this year during Lockdown, because there was no escape. There was no commute, no office, not really even another room. I had people talking to me on the phone, in slack, in person, the doorbell ringing, my kids needing me, and a video call going on at the same time. There was no 'one after the other'. At one point, it just all became noise. I would start cooking lunch on the stove, while zipping back to the other room to finish a document and check in on my kids homework. I would get a message on slack, be in a phone call and hear someone calling me from the other room. I always had my phone in my hand.
There were no evenings and no weekends, and when there were, they were no longer enough. I had no more reserves, no stored up resilience, and I saw the disaster that was burn out looming ahead of me. Rice would burn cooking on the stove, I would send emails before they were complete. I was doing all the things, I was just no longer doing them well. I knew that something had to change, and I began to make these small changes. I committed to getting out to our shared weekend cabin one workday a week, simply to feel my feet touch grass. I spent long stretches of time, just sitting. It didn't feel great. It felt slow. Unproductive. Like I was not getting things done.
This didn't resonate well with my beliefs about who I was. I could no longer do it all. OK - I thought, so let's get back to the basics. What if I really focus on yoga, meditation, mindfulness? I didn't really like the idea that me, as a yoga teacher, as a mindful and self aware person, would let herself hit a burnout. It was a renewed commitment to these things, that brought me to this very simple sentence : Multitasking is the opposite of mindfulness. By re-prioritizing my beliefs around me being a mindful person, I was able to let go of the harmful belief that multitasking was good.
The learning for me was becoming very clear which underlying beliefs were motivating my (destructive) behaviour - and to replace these with positive beliefs that aligned with how I saw myself, and the person I wanted to be. Graceful, composed, calm, on time:) My habit of multitasking was undermining my ability to show up as I wanted. With this awareness, I committed myself to daily practices in mindfulness : like committing to my gratitude journal, really getting up early to sit and meditate, noticing where my attention was going, and committing to doing only one thing at a time. Yes, I did less, but the quality of all my experiences was better. My mind was better.
My challenge for you: take one day to observe how you are show up for your day, and commit to do things one at a time. Let me know how it goes!