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Multitasking vs. Peace of Mind

Juggling Isn’t Always More Efficient Than A Single Focus

Ah, the challenge of coordinating and managing both time and task without feeling like a torture victim on the rack, stretched much, much too thin and all out of proportion.

When I taught a Workplace Wisdom Webinar “Self Management in Frantic Times,” an attendee mentioned that he felt tremendous pressure to multitask even during the webinar because his deadlines weigh on him so heavily. On some level, if he does only one thing at a time he feels like he’s neglecting all the others. Guilt is a terrible form of pressure, whatever you’re working on.

If this is an experience you recognize, think about what’s driving you.

Your desire for depth? Your need to show that you’re giving everything you’ve got? Your fear of letting people down while trying to answer too many at once? The risk that if you don’t answer quickly enough — whatever that means to the sender — that someone might be unhappy with you?

Or do you actually start to get nervous when you’re not overwhelmingly busy? Has “stress addiction” become a kind of agitated high that lets you know everything is normal?

This busy-busy-busy thing can be contagious. I find that when I have a moment without other action — standing waiting for the elevator, for example — or when a situation feels awkward — the elevator comes but the other person in it barely returns my cheery “good morning” and stares fixedly at the floor — I will check for email just to have something to do.

Take a look at this New York Times article about the loss of focus and feeling that comes with excessive reliance on gadgetry and the compulsion to multitask. We may be fooling ourselves, thinking we’re more efficient because we’re always online, on screen, just plain on. Maybe we need to substitute a different kind of connection.

Here’s an alternative. Just breathe for a moment, or have a pleasant thought or visualization about the day ahead or the one just past. Remember that in Peter Pan, it was compliance with the command, “Think lovely thoughts!” that permitted flight — Tinkerbell’s fairy dust was not strong enough by itself.

A lovely thought can lift you up. Obsessive behavior only leaves you spinning your wheels, making ruts on the ground.

Onward and upward,


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2 thoughts on “Multitasking vs. Peace of Mind

  1. Liz,

    For me it’s this feeling that the business is so complex ( and it is) that multitasking is needed. Some days it feels like you need to study for a final exam every night so you feel like you “get” the business you are leading, supporting and changing.

    Thanks for helping me see it isn’t a good thing. 🙂

  2. Your comment makes me think about the benefit of being a generalist instead of a specialist, Mark, and the value of being competent to cope with lots of different things. Just not necessarily all at once! (Of course, an emergency may call for using all your burners at once — but just for a little while, I hope.)

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