Let’s talk about…multitasking.
I’ve been there myself: frustrated by long lists, stressed by looming deadlines and a gaggle of people waiting for something from me. The idea of completing two or three tasks at once seems enticing, magical, slightly badass, and, let’s face it, maybe the only feasible way to get through the day.
But it doesn’t work.
We really, really wish it did, and we keep convincing ourselves it can. But it doesn’t. Ever. We only end up doing a bad job on all tasks we’re trying to tackle at once.
Can you relate?
You may recall the 1974 television ad for Vanish toilet cleaner in which a woman kneeling in her garden enthusiastically declares to the camera, “I’m cleaning my bathroom bowl.” Even television tells us we can multitask (although admittedly the ad sounds more like a person sequentially tackling two dirty jobs in one day… but nobody asked me).
When drinking from a firehose, multitasking can seem like a lifeline. But the real lifeline is to slow our brains down, to take small bites and chew thoroughly.
Can you even imagine this?
Think about the last time you were driving and your eyes darted to your phone screen and you chose to take a super-quick peek at that one, super-short text from your kid about soccer practice (we’ve all been there, so don’t deny it). A few seconds later, when you looked back at the road, your brain didn’t refocus right away — it takes our brains 13 seconds to regain focus. So your attention wasn’t being divided between the road and your phone; it was being diverted to the phone.
For me, the realization triggered “truth bumps” on the back of my neck about what could have happened.
If that doesn’t work for you, consider this nugget from the CDC: “At 55 miles per hour, sending or reading a text is like driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed.”
So, regardless of what we tell ourselves, multitasking isn’t really a thing. And when we try to do it, we merely switch (not split) our attention between two focal points —what does this cost you visually, manually, cognitively, and potentially physically?
What does this have to do with communication, leadership, and feeling better in your skin?
It goes back to the keen ability of the human brain to believe its thoughts. We can convince ourselves that the things we think are true (confirmation bias is real), whether or not those thoughts are rooted in any sort of reality or fact.
Consider these examples:
- A thing goes wrong at work and we believe it is our fault. This freezes us up in self-doubt, so we avoid raising our hand for the next project or challenging assignment. We also avoid asking for feedback from our manager or teammates about how we could have done things differently, both of which are opportunities to build stronger and more transparent workplace connections and demonstrate a willingness to learn and grow.
- You find yourself in a relationship snag with a friend or family member, and instead of leaning in and addressing your feelings with them openly, you create a narrative to explain the dynamic based on assumptions and predictions, all while stuffing down your discomfort in the hopes that it won’t happen again — until the next time it happens (and it does happen again because you never addressed it, so how would they know?) And, because you’re still unsettled from the first time it happened, the emotional snowball grows as it rolls downhill (not to mention what this behavior will do to your attitude at work).
Telling yourself you can juggle knives while changing a baby’s diaper doesn’t make it so (did you cringe at that visual?). Similarly, believing thoughts that you create based on flimsy narratives doesn’t make them factual. Even worse, they can send you down a black hole of misery, self-judgment, imposter syndrome, feeling small, and awful self-talk that only serves to fuel more flimsy narratives.
I teach frustrated individuals, leaders, and teams that, when we choose crappy thoughts and believe those thoughts, the outcome is predictably uncomfortable. What would it feel like if you could address this corporate problem and see real results both professionally and personally?
Then put away the knives and the phone and go dig in the garden — toilet bowl cleaning optional.