“Trying to keep up by perceiving one thing at a time faster and faster causes you to understand less about each thing, because you spend less time with it and focus in a shallower way. … It’s easy to jump to the wrong conclusion or act on insufficient information. Now we combine hundreds of functions in a single gadget—multi-tasking phones, for example, are so addictive they have spawned the “app” industry which produces even more stimulation and activity for our already-divided attention to process.” ~Penney Peirce

Cartoon super busy man and father multitask doing many worksSo-called multitasking is a favored buzz word of the day. Business types love it. Government loves it. Let’s all do ten things at once and we will get more done. But even the best jugglers occasionally drop a ball (or knife, or flaming torch). More significantly, several scientific studies have found that rather than increasing productivity, multi-tasking actually reduces it. It helps you give your boss the impression that you are always very busy, busy but not really getting anything done. Or the tasks you do complete are often done poorly because you get all those different things mixed up in your head.

Further, the studies found that the idea of multi-tasking, that is doing several things at once, is largely an illusion. Your mind simply cannot handle doing many thing at once, so what you really do when you are supposedly multi-tasking is flittering from one task to another every few minutes so you never stay with one task long enough to really understand it. If you are designing a new product, this may result in a design error that makes it useless or too costly. If you are writing software, you may forget to account for some things a user (or hacker) might do and leave fairly obvious bugs in the software. If you are writing advertising, you might unintentionally include something in the ad that a group finds offensive. So multi-tasking often does not give the results desired. So it is usually better to concentrate on one task until it is completed. Or at least one task at work and one task at home. This, of course, does not include tasks which simply don’t require any concentration. There is no reason, for example, why you can’t have a meal cooking in the oven and a batch of laundry in the washing machine. Even without multi-tasking, we often rush too much to get things done. We become more concerned with quantity and the quality of our work usually suffers.

This may seem to contradict another article I recently wrote telling people to stop focusing too much on one thing and missing what else is happening around it, but it doesn’t. The two ideas actually work well together. When we are working on something, we need to concentrate on that one thing, but we also need to not focus so much on one thing in our environment that we miss others that may be equally important. Don’t be that person concentrating so much on your cell phone conversation that you walk out into traffic and get killed. Be the person who is aware of all of it, but still work on one thing at a time.

The spiritual side of this is that, while it is true that a spiritual person can live a more spiritual life by including a little spiritual philosophy, morality and humility into all her activities, that in itself doesn’t make you spiritually enlightened. In order to become a truly enlightened person, you need to set aside a little time, preferably daily, to practice spiritual techniques without engaging in material tasks at the same time. You spend most of the day thinking only of material pursuits, surely you can spend a few minutes being spiritual and nothing else. The rewards are well worth it.


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