I’ll be honest: Asking myself whether multitasking is a blessing or a curse to my mental health is not a question I could’ve asked a year ago. As an active teenager involved in sports, clubs, journalism—you name it—I told myself that multitasking is one of my greatest skills. I didn’t think twice about Snapchatting friends while doing homework or blasting music as I studied for an exam. As a young adult with a full-time job and other obligations, I kept up this habit.
I feel a sort of insecurity with my free time. With recess being very limited and very precious, I feel a need to do as much with the experience as possible. In recent months, however, I began to realize that the juice I was squeezing out of this mindset was not sweet. I’m writing this as an affirmation to myself and a wake-up call to anyone who needs it: It is time we stop viewing multitasking as the apex of productivity and instead work towards living a more present, balanced, and fulfilling life.
We are a binge-watching-while-phone-scrolling, 67-tabs-open-over-8-windows on the computer generation (I wish those numbers exaggerated, but it is typical for me to have 67 tabs open over 8 windows on my computer). What’s the harm in painting my nails while I FaceTime a friend? One might as well watch television while eating dinner, right?
Despite the anxiety spread by the pandemic, I felt shielded since neither my family nor friends caught this virus, and our safety was all that seemed to matter. Still, my social media accounts were there to make me feel guilty about not doing enough. The busyness of my weekend day trips, cooking sessions, and jewelry making, normally engages my mind enough, but those activities were no match for the imaginary pressure cookers of social media waiting at my fingertips. As fellow Presence blogger Antara discusses in her recent piece, one could say I was experiencing FOMO, the Fear Of Missing Out.
Now, I have grown weary of re-watching shows because I zoned out and missed some scenes, and I can’t be the only person who regrets eating too fast or too much due to distractions from meals meant to be savored. And speaking of savoring, what about our friends’ wish to be heard and their presence and conversation to be valued and not taken for granted? These examples may seem silly, but there is a thin line between these low-risk pairs of distractions and the potentially fatal mix of texting and driving.
Consolidation is the busy human’s solution to an overpopulation of activities on their agenda. We consolidate pastimes and, in the process, condition our brain to identify them as less important. While this might be a workaholic’s paradise, I believe these supposedly lesser affairs are crucial to one’s health and deserve more attention.
Even though multitasking is a popular buzzword, 98% of multitaskers are bad at it, according to Forbes.com. For mental work, the time we take to refocus from distractions back to the interrupted task causes productivity to drop by around 40% per instance of switching back, according to the same Forbes article. Focusing on one interest at a time (or unitasking) might feel less effective at first, but choosing to be present with what we set our mind and body to do yields more success in the long run. Of course, breaking a habit, especially a habit that is deeply ingrained, is easier said than done.
Accepting that I’m no supertasker and not a member of the 2% within the multitasking population was very difficult. I often remind myself that, offline, even the most efficient and happy online peers may feel completely opposite from their online persona. I also must remember that life is not a competition. Instead of letting my inability to multitask make me feel unintelligent and weak, I am now pleased with my capacity to see where growth in my life needs attention and water it accordingly. With an attitude like this, the fruits of my efforts will no doubt be sweet.
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