One Rarely Discussed Problem with Multitasking

the word focus in blurry lights

I have been using COVID-19 to make observations about myself in an attempt to grow as a leader and I encourage you to do the same. Today’s post originates from one such observation.

I have noticed that I am constantly “doing” multiple things at the same time. Many, if not most, of these things are good things. For example, I regularly listen to an audio book while I stretch at night. While others, like checking work email while my kids are talking to me, are not so good.

There are many problems with multitasking, but here is one that is not often discussed. In the pursuit of doing more and multitasking, I am training myself to never be fully present.

How do you know if you have this problem? Here are some things to notice:

  • Do you regularly check your phone while doing another activity (hobby or watching T.V. Etc.)?
  • Can you recall checking email while someone was talking to you? Or, when your co- worker was ranting about something on ZOOM?
  • If you set a five-minute timer on your phone, can you easily sit still and be quiet?

Coming into this crisis, I would have answered my own quiz this way:

Yes. Yes. No.

In their 2019 book, The Passion Paradox, authors Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness discuss the illusion of balance as it relates to our passion. In that conversation, however, they make a striking point about attention, “what gets our attention BECOMES important” (emphasis mine). While their point has to do with passion and how we should give our passion more attention, this statement applies to so much more than passion.

Here is how it applies to multitasking and today’s topic:

What, or who, are you really giving attention to when you are multitasking?

If I am honest, I am quasi giving attention to both things which means I am successfully giving full attention to NEITHER. I can live with this when my attention is divided between my audio book and stretching, but what about when it is between my work email and colleague talking on ZOOM? Or worse, when it is between work email and my 8-year-old son?

Here is the takeaway to think about for the next week:

We need to give FULL attention now to things that are important. Then what gets our attention will become important.

Full attention takes discipline and intentionality. It also takes sacrifice. You will get less done.

But by living a fully attentive life you will give attention to what you value, and not to what you don’t.

If this time has taught us anything, I hope it is that we should give MORE attention to the things we value.