MULTITASKING- YOUR VIRTUE OR CURSE?

Multitasking has always been one of my virtues, or so I thought. How about you? Talking on the phone arranging meetings (sometimes two caller on two lines), while preparing the copies for my next coaching and at the same time with one free hand comforting my cat or eating. The overall intention was to be more efficient and to “safe time” for truly important tasks. 
Did I, really safe time? 

A couple of weeks ago, I was inspired by a movement course I did and we were called to stop multitasking. “No big deal”-I thought to myself. After all, at truly important meetings or actions I never multi tasked anyways. 

While some in the course were struggling to detect the multitasking moment, I almost always immediately noticed when I headed into multitasking action in the frantic everyday life. I could stop myself. Yet, sometimes life and unexpected circumstances forced me to do two things at a time. 

What really surprised me was how often I usually multitasked. My whole start into the day was a continuous multitasking challenge. While brushing my teeth, I would go through my “to do” list for the day; while making coffee, I would feed my cats or check my emails; while getting dressed, I would do my first calls… the list is endless. Even before going to bed, winding down, I would multitask. 

The only actions, where I would not (at least not physically) multitask where during rehearsal, practice, going for a walk in the woods, sleeping and no more. Wow. 

Now aware and observing my multitasking patterns, I realized that it constantly stressed my body and mind. The feeling and re-action action, the state it caused, was one of constant flight and run. The moment was never enough. My brain was overloaded. Thinking and thinking and working things out. My whole system was over stimulated but I had become so used to it, I believed it to be a virtue. 

Yes, to state it more drastically- I was in a state of anxiety without even realizing. Sometimes, I was even depressed as I had not multitasked enough… 

Since, I meditate regularly and I love my work, I was surprised to find out how stressed I was and some “symptoms” or struggles began to clarify. Could it be, that I had just multitasked too much? 

If multitasking was an important innate skill, you’d think there would have always been a word for it? Asking “Google” I found out that before 1965 the word “multitask” didn’t exist. IBM had come up with the expression to explain the process of a computer program. 

And now, some 50 years later, people pride themselves on their ability to multitask. Are we designed that way? Like a computer program? 

Yes, humans are capable of doing two things at a time especially when one of those activities is so ingrained that it can be done on autopilot. Most of us can carry on a conversation while walking or drink coffee while driving. 

Yet what we can’t do is learn or concentrate on two things at once. When the brain is presented with two tasks at once, it quickly jumps back and forth between tasks. When your brain receives more information than it can process, an area of your brain called the posterior lateral prefrontal cortex takes over. This cortex acts as a hub for routing new stimuli. The stimuli will be queued up. Your attention jumps, jumps, jumps… 

We are not designed to multitask. 

What changed for me, when I stopped multitasking? 

First of all, it was a lot easier to stop multitasking than I had thought. I noticed that I began to breath more freely, to feel, smell, hear more. Even my vision improved. Most of all, I got more done and had more free time (to breath). 

My emotional intelligence returned and my mind was a lot calmer. Communication was more relaxed. 

I could meditate more easily, enjoy more. My physical well-being and skills returned. My creative and artistic skills thrived. 

My focus was clearly in the now. I felt less exhausted and more alive. 

To improve the quality of your artistic and private life, I can really recommend stop multitasking and observe the difference it will make. 

SOME IDEAS ON HOW TO STOP THE MULTITASKING WHEEL:

  • TRACK YOUR HABITS: Begin by observing your multitasking habits. Start to journal your daily routine and strongest habits. Then do not do them!
  • USE YOUR MOBILE WISELY: NO cell phone, net surfing, answering emails etc. Switch it all off, while you are focusing on one task only!
  • WINE DOWN AND UP CALMLY: Switch your phone (emails, messages) off 1 hour before going to bed and only switch on, once you have started into the day.
  • BE THE ARTIST: When rehearsing, only focus on rehearsing!
  • BE IN COMMUNICATION: When you are with people, only focus on the people!
  • BE SAFE: When driving, only focus on driving!
  • PRACTICE FOCUS: Break up your tasks into 25 minutes blogs. This makes it easier to focus on one thing at a time.
  • PHONE, EMAIL-TIME: Set a time to check through your messages, emails and calls. Only answer during the set time.
  • BE IN YOUR BODY: Check in with your body during the day and do what your body wants. If it wants to eat-feed it, if it wants to sleep-sleep, if it wants to move-move it.
  • BE: Practice 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation or listen to classical music before you do anything else and start the day.
  • LISTEN!: Make it a habit to listen. Listen to the sounds and stillness around you, your emotions, your breath, your humming, the people around you.
  • EAT WHEN YOU EAT: Eat and focus on eating. Enjoy the taste.
  • BE WALKING: Go outside and walk for 15 minutes (again no google or phone)
  • DANCE: whenever your mind is over-excited from multitasking or worrying-dance

Claudia Kohl is an artist, Alexander Technique coach, designer and author. She is the founder of The Artists Coaching in Berlin, a studio dedicated to support artists in their creative, artistic process as well as life. She has helped singers, musicians, actors, dancers and circus artists, to build a healthy and inspired carrier. Claudia likes to work with artists suffering from anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, chronic pain, burnout or artists with the courage to start something new. She comes from a background of theatre and dance before studying the Alexander Technique and developing her own method with the artists of the famous Cirque du Soleil. As a nomad and curious soul she has traveled and experienced more than most people do in their lifetime. She believes that art is what we are and that it is our responsibility to make the world a better place. She is known for her down to earth, loving and highly inspired, engaging approach to coaching. Claudia’s insights inspire audiences around the world through her monthly “Inspiration” newsletter and online coaching. For artists in Berlin, besides one on one sessions, she offers weekly Bohemian Brunches and Artistic Vision Quests. 

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Author: Claudia Kohl