People have gotten busy these past several decades. Constantly doing, doing, doing.
Much of it stems from technological advances. First it was computers. Then came the internet which gave us all kinds of things to “do” on those computers, either at home or at work. Then it was smartphones that allowed us to do everything, everywhere, all at once…ala the latest Oscar-winning film.
The resultant Distraction Busyness Revolution has hatched a subspecies of do, do, do behaviors: Multitasking. What is that, exactly? Multitasking is doing two or more activities at the same time, usually as a timesaver or productivity enhancer.
Folding laundry while on the phone
We all know multitaskers. You might be one yourself. These are people who, while talking with you on the phone for fifteen minutes have folded the laundry, made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for their son, and emptied the dishwasher.
Or someone who listens with one ear at a work meeting while making their to-do list for the day.
And here’s the thing: Multitaskers love the fact that they’re multitaskers. “I get so much done!”
Most of you can guess what I’m going to say about why multitasking is not good for our spiritual, or any other type of health. It’s simply this:
Multitasking is the antithesis of mindfulness.
The reason is obvious. Mindfulness is about being present for the moments of our lives, something that is impossible to do when we we’re engaged in multiple activities at one time.
As the great Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh once said,
“We do the dishes not only in order to have clean dishes, we also do the dishes just to do the dishes, to live fully in each moment while washing them, and to be truly in touch with life.”
Eckhart Tolle tells the story of the Zen monk lamenting to his master that he’d been at the monastery for four years and still didn’t know what Zen was. The master thought about it, then said:
“Zen is doing one thing at a time.”
Mindfulness is also doing one thing at a time. So why am I stressing this so strongly? Why devote an entire article to multitasking? Mainly to make people aware that it doesn’t serve them as well as they may think.
Because if one is multitasking, that frenetic, busyness tends to bleed into the rest of life. So that all day, every day the mind is going, going, going. Which isn’t healthy. It wears people down and contributes to that syndrome so many people have these days of waking up in the middle of the night thinking obsessive thoughts that refuse to shut the hell up, which is torturous.
Now some of you multitaskers out there might be fuming as you read this thinking, “Who the hell are you to tell me not to multitask? I’m a single mom with three kids under age eight. I have no choice but to do 100 things at once!”
Fair enough. If you’re in over your head in life, you do what you have to do to get by.
Just try being aware
To those in that position I say at least be aware of this. Maybe you’ll find that there are times that you can do one thing at a time.
And to those of you who multitask because you simply like to be busy and do a lot, consider what I’ve said here. You’ll feel a lot calmer and centered the more you stick with the one-thing-at-a-time strategy.
Also consider this: When you’re ironing shirts or whatever while talking to an old friend, your sister, your son or your mom, that person is NOT getting the best of you. Why? Because you’re not all there.
And again, that’s the biggest problem with multitasking: it becomes a habit that pervades the rest of your life. You’re so busy and frenzied all the time that you’re not present. For anybody. You have coffee with a friend and you can barely keep your eye on them, much less listen to what they’re saying, because you’re so preoccupied with…your meeting in an hour, the three errands you need to do, your son’s problems at school…
What the masters say
If you’re at all into this spiritual stuff, remember what pretty much all of these great beings say. People like Ram Dass, Mickey Singer and Eckhart Tolle. They say that the greatest gift we can give someone is our presence. Our full attention. Our consciousness.
Let me stress that this is NOT about being a “good,” virtuous person. None of my writing is about that. It’s about making you aware that there could be a different way of doing things that will result in you FEELING BETTER.
You don’t need to be the Dalai Lama. But how about a little less crazed? Less frantic. Less busy in the head.
In the end, I hope you’ll get one thing from this article. Awareness. As Eckhart says,
“Awareness is the greatest agent for change.”
So at the very least, take a look. Are you trying to do three things at once when you could do one, then the second, then the third? Is your attention distracted from the person you’re on the phone with because you’re doing something else at the same time? Something you really don’t have to do right then?
Just take a look.