Multitasking leaves me emotionally breathless.
Publish date:
July 31, 2013
work, focus, concentration, multitasking

"Focus. Focus. Focus" has been my mantra for the past few weeks.

I'm not going to lie, there are times I find this idea of "focus" incredibly dull. Being an adopted child of the Technological Revolution, I love information pounding at me from all sides -- TV, books, computer, biological human interaction, texting, bla bla bla.

Choosing one thing at a time? Blerg.

But I've been going a little batty for a while now. Sure I'm getting my stuff done, but the time it takes to do said stuff is getting longer and more drawn out.

Funny, all the instant information that surrounds me and keeps my brain a-twitter (GAH, I'm really starting to love Twitter), is what's slowing me down.

Sure I can write a post, AND watch "Silver Linings Playbook, AND text with my friend about her adventures on Phish tour (don't ask), all at the same time. But it'll take me two-and-a-half hours to write 1,000 words, and all I'll be able to tell you about the movie was that there was jogging and dancing.

Like driving and texting, my inefficient multitasking will be the death of me.

Unfortunately, it's a deeply ingrained habit that has only built upon itself over the years. I marvel at how I managed to graduate from any degree-granting institution.

When I was a kid, I was both a bookworm and a TV junkie. I'd be reading all the "Bunnicula" books while "You Can't Do That on Television" blasted on the TV.

In middle school, I regularly did my homework in front of the television in the living room, while my mom watched TV in the kitchen. We'd yell back and forth what was happening in each other's story. It took me hours and hours to finish my homework.

In high school, my class was part of a program where every student was given a laptop in order to bring us into the "computer age." They were meant to increase proficiency in using computers as a learning tool, and make us more web savvy. I got really savvy at solitaire during World History, and writing notes to my friends via floppy disk.

It was all downhill when I discovered AOL Chat Rooms and AIM (my handle was DflyinNun, what was yours?).

All the "stuff" is engrossing and wonderful in the moment, but I fear that it's causing my brain to forget how to efficiently do things. I cannot do one thing without worrying about the next, therefore causing my current task to suffer, thus causing me to fret about the previous task once I've moved on.

I know a lot of people who can function, and function WELL in this sort of controlled chaos. They do 10 things at once, a step never seems to be missed, a detail never lost. I envy them, and for a long time I molded myself in their image. It was almost glamorous to me, how busy these types were -- fast, smart, always seemingly DOING.

The thing is, I can function this way and part of me really likes it, but it really isn't me. Multitasking leaves me emotionally breathless. I've always been slow. Not dense, but slow.

I ruminate.

A director I once worked with called me a "slow boil." If he asked me to make a change in what I was doing onstage, be it in intention or way of moving, he knew he'd see it…eventually. Definitely not that night, maybe not the next night, but by the time I'd figured out how to do what he was asking, it would be good.

So I've had an epiphany of sorts: Give yourself enough time, to do one thing well.

I'm learning to be a slow unitasker.

For the past few weeks, I've been attempting to unitask. If I'm writing, I'm writing. If I'm reading, I'm reading. If I'm talking to someone on the phone, that's all I'm doing -- no checking my Facebook or email.

I've even taken it so far as to insist on showering in silence, instead of my usual music playing while simultaneously going over my lines for my next show. I thought this would be boring (I hate showering), but honestly, it's become my moment of Zen in the evening.

The most surprising thing is that I've actually found myself becoming calmer and more efficient. Instead of tasks piling up like so many unfinished lines in Tetris, as was my fear, the tasks are satisfyingly yet steadily being checked off one by one. It's almost rhythmic. I've turned down the volume in my head a bit, and I'm able to actually hear my thoughts.

Without the constant hum of judgement over what I should be doing next, and how I could have done the previous thing better, I find I'm doing everything more thoughtfully. Maybe it's not so much that I'm slow, but that I need that head space to sort things out.

I guess some people would cal this "being present."

And it's not entirely about me. I'm a better friend, worker and wife when I'm not perpetually doing three other things while you're trying to talk to me. I'm more giving of myself. In the long run, this way of doing things might be saving my relationships.

Is the temptation still there to open my computer when my husband and I are watching a movie? Yes of course. Did I check my Facebook while I was writing this post? Only once. Which, by the way, is a victory because so often writing time for me is really "writing and Facebook time."

I guess what I'm rambling about is that in my quest to be comfortable in my skin, I largely ignored my brain. I'm figuring out that I have to accept my mind for all the quirks and neuroses that make me, me.

Just as it's so self defeating to covet another person's body, it's just as self-defeating to covet another person's way of thinking. I realize that's what I've been doing for much of my adult life -- looking to the next person to see how they solve the problem and trying to be like them. It's square pegs in round holes, it just doesn't fit.

So I'm attempting to keep this "slow unitasking" up the best I can. It feels right, but it's hard to quiet the voices that sometimes say, "But you should be THIS way."

And yes, stuff arises where I have to think fast and on my feet, and "slow unitasking" just ain't gonna cut it. But I find I have more reserves now to tackle those situations without losing my cool.

I'm able to, "Focus. Focus. Focus."