Article Highlights

  • We lose time and efficiency when expect our conscious mind to multitask
  • Multitasking results in lost productivity and distraction
  • By being mindful, we become truly attentive and productive

Have you ever awakened in the middle of the night suddenly realizing that you made a mistake or forgot to do something the day before?

Isn’t it crazy, that you can go all day and not think of something important, and then at 2:56 a.m., it hits you like a brick?

But what can you do about it at 2:56 am? You know you won’t be able to take care of it until morning, but that isn’t going to help you fall back asleep. As a matter of fact, if you are like most people, it will keep you awake thinking about it and – worrying.

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To fix this, we must look at why this happens in the first place.

In our society, we have fallen hard for the myth that we are more productive when we are multitasking. It is normal for many of us to talk on the phone, transact a business deal, drive, eat, and listen to the radio all at the same time.

But our conscious mind is not like our subconscious mind, which really does know how to multitask. Our subconscious mind can direct the body to process thousands of bits of sensory data, digest food, adjust a heart rate, create a baby, fight off hundreds of pathogens, grow hair, fall in love, rid the body of toxins, replicate cells, and monitor the movements of the moon –all at the same time.

Our conscious mind on the other hand, which is also a very powerful entity, functions differently. It is more effective when it does ONE thing at a time.

Side Effects of Multitasking

Researchers have found that multitasking actually slows the brain down because when we multitask we are not really doing several activities at once; we are really fluctuating back and forth between those activities.  As you can imagine there are real problems that occur when we switch back and forth between too many things.

  1. We miss important details.
  2. We lose productivity in the transition time between activities.
  3. We forget things.
  4. We are not fully committed, involved, or useful in each activity.
  5. We get distracted easily.

Multitasking is also dangerous. Studies have shown that talking on the phone, while driving, can impair your driving more than having two (alcoholic) drinks.

Multitasking causes problems in the workplace, too. Microsoft found that when their employees were interrupted by email or instant message, it took them about 15 minutes to get back into their work groove. That is a lot of lost productivity per day.

If you think about it, you’ve probably seen this happen in many different ways.

Imagine a person listening to her friend on the phone while peeling carrots. For a while she is sort of listening. She has learned to respond automatically when her friend pauses, saying things like “yes,” “great,” and “uh huh.” But her attention is going back and forth between the conversation and making sure peels end up in the garbage can. Inevitably, when the other person says something interesting, she has to stop peeling the carrots for a moment so she can really pay attention.

Have you ever wondered why your kids have to ask you things, several times? It might be that you are trying to do too many things at once, and your brain, which can only focus on one thing at a time, has learned to tune them out.

The same goes for working on a report while watching T.V., talking while you are eating, or driving a car when you are thinking about that big presentation you have to make next week. You end up getting to work okay but you can’t remember parts of the drive. You’ve been fluctuating again.

Becoming Mindful

So how do we become truly attentive and productive? By being mindful.

When we are mindful, we completely experience the food, the drive, the conversation. We choose to devote our attention to one thing at a time (since that is all we really can do). We choose to be more focused, more attentive, more productive.

I realized that was the reason I woke up the other night.

I had been in a conversation earlier that day, but was “busy” doing several other things. I didn’t realize what I had missed – what the other person needed – until hours later at 2:56 a.m.

That was when my mind had stopped “doing things” long enough to really get something done. It had stopped fluctuating and transitioning and had started processing instead.

Benefits of Being in the Present

Have you ever wondered why your best thoughts tend to come when you are in the shower?  Or why things suddenly occur to you while in your sleep? Or why you feel so inspired when you are watching a sunset?

This happens because, for a moment, you are in the present moment. There is not a lot of multitasking when you are relaxed in a shower. When we live in the moment, we naturally become more productive.

Mindfulness is not only a powerful stress management technique; it is a powerful time management technique.  And even more cool, it is the only way to truly experience life.

Focusing on what you are doing now means not losing the present to the things that need to be done in the future or what should have been done in the past. It means getting back those lost 15 minutes of transition time. It means building better relationships with those you care about. It means more creativity, more inspiration more, more productivity, and yes far fewer sleepless nights.

Putting it into Practice

I devote an entire section of my online course RELEASE to mindfulness and how to put it into practice each day. I believe this is one of the most powerful stress management tools out there and if you can really ingrain the techniques into your mind, you can change your life. 

You can also find additional articles on Mindfulness here

You can also read about mindfulness in the book The World is Not a Stressful Place