Why I Decided to Stop Multitasking
I’m all out of multitasking. I think my multitasking has stopped for good.
I was doing it round the clock. Flourishing as a multitasker. Then I lost it…my desire to multitask.
It was like I had used my capacity to multitask all up or something.
This reminds me of the episode of Sex and the City when Charlotte shares with a very distraught and dissatisfied Samantha a tale of a woman who had used up all of her orgasms.
Charlotte: I read this article about a woman who’s having orgasms around the clock. And then, boom! Orgasms stopped for good. It was like she had used them all up or something.
Samantha: That’s the meanest thing you’ve ever said to me.
Like Samantha, I felt personally attacked when I learned that:
A) Multitasking is in fact, toxic to one’s ability to flourish
B) Women are not any better at multitasking then men.
I swear, half my motivation to multitask was genuinely based on the superior productivity I felt when I was able to do so many things well, at the same time. I felt like I was able to accomplish all the things I wanted to and more. And the other half was based on the understanding that I was simply the better gender to handle having so many balls in the air at once.
But, what do we find often leads to change? Hitting a breaking point. And I hit a breaking point of not WANTING to multitask anymore. I had exhausted a resource that I previously felt was of service to me. The fact is, I was breaking up with multitasking. For good.
The Ugly Symptoms of Multitasking I was Experiencing
My problems with multitasking were clearly presenting themselves and inhibiting my ability to flourish. So, with some awareness and desire to get to the root of the problem, I made observations and came up with this list of what I was experiencing from multitasking around the clock:
I was in reactive mode All. The. Time.
I could never get ahead back to a “proactive place”. (Kind of like Samantha not being able to “get there ;)) I was not totally drowning but I wasn’t swimming. I often was able to tread water, always close enough to the surface to take a breath, but never at the surface long enough to feel comfortable, let alone relaxed. Safe to say, this led to a constant state of agitation – THAT had to be pleasant for those around me….
Easy things – aka everything – took me longer than necessary.
Like everything. From figuring out what to pack in the lunches, to taking 3x as long to write an email or even plan upcoming work Zooms, I was bleeding time so I wasn’t even able to get to the big thinking work – the work you get done in a state of flow. Basically, I couldn’t get there. As a big fan of working smarter not harder, this was an unfamiliar and frustrating place to be and even worse – I couldn’t seem to find my way out of it.
And for the deal breaker: Even when I still managed to get it all done – from the simple to the complex—I was not feeling fulfilled.
Without focus on any one thing at one time, it’s like I was NEVER present. I couldn’t remember things because I was never mentally fully there for them so even when they had the potential to trigger a happy memory, I didn’t have it in my brain! I fell victim to the need to be productive at ALL TIMES because of the above. Maybe as a subconscious punishment or way to compensate for the “environmental factors” above.
Why I Didn’t Blame Myself
Instead of completely blaming myself, I took time to acknowledge a few things I know to be true.
First is that throughout my entire life, I have prided myself on being a strong time manager. As a student, as a business owner, as a mom and as a wife, in all the roles. I have studied concepts like “Essentialism” and what deeply resonates with me is that you simply can’t have it all when “all” is arbitrary. You must first define what it “all” is to you and for me, that is some combination of knowing my professional goals, proactively defining what is meaningful to me personally and prioritizing accordingly.
Which leads me to my second observation I knew to be true: I found it worth noting that I started seeing these problems post-pandemic. In my search for more answers, I learned about “languishing” from Adam Grant, which is defined as “a sense of stagnation and emptiness.” He has an insightful TED talk about this emotion and he wrote an article for the NY Times that said languishing can “dull your motivation and focus — and it may be the dominant emotion of 2021.”
Now as for my 3rd and final observation: I realized I was multitasking so much because I had taken on so much in my house by default and I subconsciously justified this partially because I am a woman.
The cold hard truth presented in Eve Rodsky’s book, Fair Play, that I had to accept was that, “There is no consistent data proving that women are better at multitasking than men.” While the whole book is a “must read,” everything Eve lays out in “Toxic Time Message #8” is BEYOND fascinating as it provides insight around the practice of multitasking (and its downfalls).
What I am Doing to Solve the Multitasking Problem
The fabulous news is, there is a way to hop off the multitasking hamster wheel…but your feet have to take the first step.
Just like organizing your house, once in a while, you need to purge. My life list had gotten too full. I had accumulated too many things and so multitasking was the only way to attempt to get them all done. I realized I needed to re-examine what is important to me; that when my “all” has too many things, the intention behind them is lost (which contributes to the lack of fulfillment problem). Chalk it up to parenting, being a busy professional, or being in reactive mode for too long and it’s easy to see how your list gets messy.
Next, I’m building in more buffers of time to allow me to focus. I need to be sure I’m not expecting to get things done in an unrealistic amount of time. I am retraining my focus by literally reformatting my calendar. Instead of me literally triple booking one hour on my calendar to accomplish 3 things, I chose 1 thing, allocate more time than I think is needed for it and then try to focus on just doing that.
Women often don’t have the luxury of focusing on one task at a time so I decided this was going to be an act of self-care to allow myself the blocks of time to focus.
I’m rebuilding my confidence that I AM a strong time manager by realizing some of my multitasking is simply done out of habit. Now, I’m deciding to do things with intention, not by default, and I am looking to accountability partners – even my children— to help me.
I also have a bigger motivation to not model unhealthy behavior like making our brains play “ping pong” and do 3 things at once. Doing all of the above is also pushing me to retrain my expectations of myself, which is also a healthy way to refresh and probably overdue.
Lastly, I’m working on leveraging systems with my partner. I pride myself on systems; I love systems. I have used them to build my business and I teach systems everyday to the women we train to start their own social media marketing business. But I didn’t have a true partner-based system for running our household and the foundational system I am focusing on is one of communication.
When I was at my strongest with time management, it was always for myself, as a student, as a young professional and as a single person. Now as a mom and a wife, I need new systems. And I need new systems for my 8- and 6-year-old than I do when they were 1 and 3 years old.
I now see it as I simply don’t have as much tenure in my “mom role” as I did before I was a mom so not only do I need new systems, I need to give myself grace that I’m constantly working on it.
How You Can Solve Your Multitasking Problem
I certainly do not have it all figured out. But I am aware of what activities lead to excessive multitasking, which gives me the warning that the ugly symptoms are not far behind. When you know the cause of a problem, it can give you a greater sense of control and ability to make decisions on what you can control.
My advice for any woman looking to get off the multitasking hamster wheel is to accept that you have to do it for yourself; you have to take the first step. Being told by others –friends, families, articles—is often not compelling enough; real desire to change is inside. Even partners with the best intentions and households with the best systems can’t help you if you don’t first decide to make a change. You may be contributing to your own problem, but you can also be your first step to a solution.