I was out shopping for clothes the other day, trying to get in the mood for Spring. Let me rephrase that: I’m definitely in the mood for Spring— I’m just waiting for the weather to cooperate with my wishes. Anyway, as I walked up to the counter, the young woman said to me, “Hi, how are you today”.
That in and of itself doesn’t seem so unusual. However, by the tone of her voice, it was evident to me that she didn’t mean one word of what she had just mumbled. The words came out in a monotone and she didn’t look up from what she was doing. They were words she was obligated to share with me. I spent the next five minutes trying to determine what exactly was going on with her. Was this just her personality or was there something more to this? As she handed me my receipt, she looked up. She then handed me the bag and proceeded to ask whether or not she had handed me my receipt. I reminded her that she had just done that 10 seconds before she handed me the bag.
I asked her if she had a lot on her mind. She shared that she was sorry, but she was trying to think about too many things at once. She was embarrassed by her actions and wondered why she couldn’t do more than one thing at a time. She actually felt that she was deficient in this area when everyone else had this exceptional ability. I reminded her that no one can focus on more than one thing and not have their performance suffer. She’s really not that different than any of us.
Women seem to take a lot of pride in being multi-taskers. I have clients that swear up and down that they’re great at juggling numerous things at once. However, I beg to differ and so do the experts. According to Professor Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at MIT, multi-tasking definitely affects our mental clarity. In a recent research study, he scanned volunteer’s heads while they performed certain tasks. He found that when they were given visual stimulants, only one or two stimulants activated a part of our brain. This was proof that we couldn’t focus on more than one or two items at a time. He discovered that when there are two similar tasks, they compete to utilize the same part of our brain.
The result of this multi-tasking is that the brain’s efficiency slows down. And if that wasn’t enough, when we do two similar tasks, they found that it knocks an equivalent of 10 points off our IQ. They also found multi-tasking to have negative effects on our physical health. When you attempt to accomplish more numerous tasks at once, your body’s response is to release stress hormones. In other words, multi-tasking translates into you being more stressed, taking longer to accomplish your tasks and lowering the quality of your work. None of that appeals to me and I’m betting it doesn’t to you either.
In essence, your goal to accomplish as many tasks as possible while believing that you’re using your time efficiently has backfired on you. In the long run, practicing mindfulness and being fully in the present is a more effective, healthy way to live your life.