Stop multitasking

Stanford has released results of a study suggesting that “the minds of multitaskers are not working as well as they could.” This isn’t news to me… I’ve been conducting my own self-study and repair for many months now.

For years, as I evolved as a supposed multitasker extraordinaire, facilitated by Internet technology, I was persistently balancing a large number of projects on my little nose. However I had a growing sense that things weren’t working as they should, even though I seemed to get a lot of things done.  I felt fragmented, and I was losing bits and pieces of conversations and occasionally missing appointments or failing followups. I was pretty clear that my mental faculties weren’t diminishing, rather, the demands on them were growing.

The solution (which I’m still successfully processing) came a couple of ways. For one thing, after 40 years as an armchair Buddhist, I got serious about the Buddhist practice of mindfulness. In Buddhist practice you step back and become aware of the workings of your mind, which in my case was pretty chaotic with all the facts and events and processes I was tracking. I could see clearly how my cognition was fragmented. It was like a cup filled to overflowing. I had “multitasked” beyond my ability to track and organize.

The other thing was seeing the problem reflected by my business partner, David Armistead, who has met with me almost every day for the last two years as we’ve worked to evolve our business. Our work has been demanding – we’re not just building a business, we’re also thinking through philosophical and practical impacts associated with the growing use of social media and the growing demand for sustainability – big subjects that require as much focus as we can muster, given their breadth. David could see in our various meetings that I was losing focus at points – actually shifting focus to other things that were urgent, if not critical. He’s given me persistent helpful feedback as I’ve pared down the number of projects I’m tracking and get laser-focused on our the work we’re doing.

If you need to “defragment,” you don’t necessarily have to adopt a Buddhist practice, but mindfulness exercises are helpful.  Feedback from someone close by is very helpful.  But the main thing is to stop thinking you can “multitask,” because you’re only ever focusing on one thing at a time, and what you call multitasking is exploding your focus into fragments.

Author: Jon Lebkowsky

Co-wrangler of Plutopia News Network, cohost Radio Free Plutopia. Podcaster, writer, dharma observer, enzyme. Former editor/publisher, FringeWare Review; associate editor at bOING bOING and Factsheet Five; writer at Mondo 2000, 21C, Wired, Whole Earth Review, Austin Chronicle; sub-editor at Millennium Whole Earth Catalog; blogger at Worldchanging. Digital culture maven, podcaster, writer, dharma observer, enzyme. On The WELL, Cohost of VC (virtual communities), Media, and Civil War (.ind) conferences.

4 thoughts on “Stop multitasking”

  1. Hello!
    Thank you for writing this article.I found it very interesting. I am a multitasker, I always was. I think I knew this fact since I was 15 or 16( I am approaching 40 now).
    I am really tired now, I overused my energy trying to achieve projects which become meaningless to me just at the middle of the road.
    I must also say that I am quite good at acquiring new skills(I said acquiring, not learning)
    The result is: Once a skill is almost acquired, I jump to something totally different.
    You may say that is not multitasking, but, as the number of my projects and hobbies grows up, I keep visiting and revisiting them every once in a while.
    Still, I am always doing heterogeneous tasks simultaneously, always overheating my brain’s processors thinking INVOLUNTARILY about nothing and everything.

    At your opinion, do I have to start worrying? (anyway, that would be an additional thing to think about :)

    Sorry if my English is bad sometimes, it’s not my mother tongue and that’s the result when you teach yourself English using slow romantic songs.
    Thank you for this fantastic blog!


  2. Great Article

    i do agree that β€œthe minds of multitaskers are not working as well as they could.”

    multitaskers were actually ineffective at managing information, attention, and getting results (productivty).

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