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  • Writer's pictureMadhura

Stop that Multitasking. Slow Down to Speed Up

Hello my dear friend. Welcome to yet another inspiring episode of Morning Cup of Sunshine. This episode is the most requested episode. Can you believe the first request I got to talk about this subject when I was just 3 episodes in. It was from one of my colleagues. After a few weeks, I again got a request for this episode from one of my friends and then from a couple of listeners in the past few months. The same topic was getting requested by so many listeners. But I did not have courage to pick this topic for recording. Do you know why? Because I was nowhere near even understanding its importance. In fact, I had the exact opposite opinion. Alright, enough of suspense. Today’s topic is “Stop that multitasking”. I always took pride in my ability to multitask. I have literally thousands of examples of my some seriously silly multitasking habits. Every time I used to do only one task at a time, I felt as if I was wasting my time. It was like a second nature to me and I was not even aware that it was causing me tremendous amounts of stress. I thought it's my badge of honor. But that bubble burst a few weeks ago. I scumbled to the pressure of way too many things on my plate. It was impossible for me to find a breathing space. That’s when I started looking closely into my routine. I realized, I am always doing multiple things in parallel. I take office calls while cooking. I work on completely two irrelevant projects exactly at the same time. While I wait for the server to start testing applications of one project, I work on a completely different project and then switch back and forth. There are countless examples. Some are so tiny, trivial some are huge. But I realized, it is pressurizing me way too much. That’s when I decided to work on myself. I read books, I deliberately tried some suggestions mentioned in the books. I worked hard to stop myself from doing multiple things at the same time. I worked hard to stop thinking about the next item in my to-do list while working on the current task at hand. It was not easy for me. But I tried and today I want to talk about that journey. It is a way different episode than my all other episodes as it might not have steps because this is still work in progress. I have not mastered the skill yet to let you know the exact steps. But instead today, I decided to share my journey from being an avid multitasker to be more mindful. Are you ready for this honest and raw episode? So, let's get into it. But before that, I want to share a quick happy moment with you.

Happy Moment of the Week

This Friday, we watched one of my most favorite Bollywood movies. We watched it together. Of course, Rushikesh was making fun of me and the movie the entire time. It was sweetness overload for me. This time, Mihir joined him too. He is becoming way too much like his dad now. I think only I and Maitreyi enjoyed watching the movie. Maitreyi enjoyed it because of countless songs. She was bursting out to dance at every song sequence. Mihir and Rushikesh enjoyed making fun of us for each and every scene of the movie. Only parts that Mihir loved in the movie were a few cricket scenes and cute dog scenes. These days cricket and dogs are the new loves for Mihir so he was happy to see those sprinkled in the movie. Any guesses for my favorite Bollywood movie? Yes, it was obviously Hum Aapke Hain Koun? I don’t even know how many times I have watched this movie. It was released in 1994 and I was hardly 9 but I remember watching this movie at least 15 times in the theatre. It was the biggest hit of that year. Every time, I heard that some of our neighbors were going to the theatre to watch a movie, I used to accompany them. I told you about my dad. He loved watching movies and his friend owned a movie theatre so it was not that difficult for me to convince my dad to take me to watch this movie. This movie is so close to my heart because it has countless memories attached to it. It reminds me of a story, a memory of the time I watched it in theatre. So, it was fun to share that with my kids. I remembered watching Mugale Azam with my dad and he was giving me a running commentary of the movie the entire time. It was too long for me to appreciate at the age of 10 or 12. But when we were watching HAHK this Friday, I realized I was doing the exact same thing, giving a running commentary and my expert opinion about every sequence in the film. Those movie genes are surely strong in me. It was a fun Friday night and it will definitely be the one that will stay with me forever. With all those songs, Maitreyi’s over the top dance moves, Mihir’s and Rushikesh’s continuous teasing made my weekend so bright. How about you my friend? How was your weekend? Did you do anything fun? I am waiting for your happy moments in our weekly post. Join my Facebook group, Morning Cup of Sunshine to share and spread the happiness around.

Alright, let’s get into today’s topic. I know the title of the episode is Stop that Multitasking. But I still have two minds, is it really that bad? It makes me feel efficient, it makes me finish my work in less time, then why are we even talking about stopping that habit? It feels good to complete more than one task at the same time. Writing an email while on a call, cooking multiple dishes at the same time, working on multiple projects at the same time. It feels as if we are getting a lot done in a short period of time but really we are putting a strain on our brain. Our brain is not really suitable for working on multiple things at the same time with the same efficiency. Some researchers even believe that the productivity decreases by 40% if you multitask. There are chances to make mistakes or compromise on quality if you multitask. But still it is extremely difficult to work on one thing at the same time for someone who is hardwired to work on multiple things at the same time. It feels nearly impossible. I have been slowly trying to get rid of my habit of multitasking for a few months now. If you remember my word for 2021 is Breathe. This year I am focusing more on slowing down, breathing more and stressing out less. This habit of multitasking is the first thing that I started working on to make me feel more calm, more centered and less stressed. It is not easy. I told you I am the queen of multitasking. You give any tasks, I will find a way to accommodate a couple of them at the same time. I call my friends when I am cooking, I wash my dishes while Mihir is reciting his tables besides me. So, I am listening and checking his tables while cleaning dishes. I fold my laundry while walking indoors to finish my daily steps count. Oh, there are countless examples. Some are too funny to share. So you can imagine how much it is engraved in me. Even if I am in a meeting, and somebody else from my other project pings me for some other work, I still reply to his ping in no time. I used to feel all of this is helping me to be on top of things. I used to feel that this is making me more efficient and this is why I can get all things done. But the more and more I started multitasking, it started burdening me. I started expecting more and more from myself, sometimes so much that it was beyond my limit or for that matter beyond humanly possible. So, here I am, contemplating if I should completely stop multitasking. But very honestly the more I think, the more I feel that it is not possible to completely stop multitasking in this age where we wear so many different hats at the same time. It is again way too much of a pressure on oneself to stop multitasking altogether. So, I think it is time to find the golden balance between extreme multitasking and just doing one single thing at the same time. What say? That is the reason the title of the episode is Stop that multitasking, Slow down to speed up.

I think the very first thing that we should do is planning, preparing and prioritizing. I have talked at lengths about these three steps in many of my episodes. Specially, listen to the work life harmony episode to get tons of tips about these topics. I will surely add a link in the show notes for you. I don’t want to repeat those steps here even though they are extremely crucial to manage that must needed skill of multitasking. But instead, I am going to talk about something new that came across while I was reading or shall I say listening to a book on productivity. We all know the importance of a to-do list or a brain dump. This helps us objectively see all the tasks that we have to do on that day. It takes out the randomness of our schedule and gives it a certain flow. I am an avid believer of writing down your to-do list every single day. It gives me peace of mind. But I used to list down the tasks without any particular order. I used to list down the tasks at most based on the time slots available to me. E.g. list of all morning chores, work hours and after work hours. But recently, I read about dividing your list into two main categories. urgent and important. This is such a wonderful idea. Let me explain why. What happens most of the time if you randomly add all the tasks in your to-do list is when you mark the completed tasks at the end of the day and if there are certain tasks that you could not get around today, you start feeling bad about it. If you have 10 items on your to-do list and if you got around 8 of them, without thinking whether those remaining 2 were really urgent, you start blaming yourself for not completing those. Then, starts the rush to multitask in order to finish all 10 of them. This is what we want to avoid. We want to be more intentional about our to-do list. The goal of making a to-do list is to make us feel more in control and calm and not the exact opposite. This is the reason why you need to divide your to-do list in these two categories. Focus more on your urgent tasks, spend focused and intentional time completing those urgent tasks, one at a time. Then move to important tasks only if you feel there is enough gas left in your tank to fulfill these tasks. If not, let them go for today. If you can finish 70-80% of the tasks in your list, that is good enough. If you can not or do not want to finish the tasks in your important list for that day, then it is okay. Give yourself grace. Don’t blame yourself instead give yourself a pat on a back for fulfilling all the urgent tasks today. Tomorrow is a new day and there is ample time to get around those tasks. If you use this strategy, you will feel more accomplished in a day. This way, you won’t feel the need to squeeze in way too many tasks in that short window of time.

Another trick that worked wonders for me over the years is block scheduling. There are some great resources in this topic. I will try to put the link to some of the books that I read over the years on this topic. Time blocking has been my best and trusted friend for years. Especially when you work from home, it is quite tempting to start a load of laundry while you are working, or vacuum or cook in between your meetings. But trust me, it adds only stress and even though you might be able to check off a few items in your to-do list, it will give you the guilt that you were not focused enough during your work hours. It will not give you the sense of accomplishment. I worked from home for years so I know it first hand. However tempting it is do not squeeze your home-making responsibilities in your work hours and vice versa. Time blocking works to avoid the unnecessary multitasking and eventual burn out. For me, early mornings are for my podcast work, mornings are for cooking and cleaning, 9-5 is strictly for work and then evening are for my exercise and family time. I try not mix and match my many responsibility hats at the same time. Of course not all days are the same. There are some days where I have to take my work calls late at night or early morning. There are some days where I have to take my kids for their doctor’s appointment during my work hours. Not all days are equal in any way. I am by no means perfect and pretend that I have figured all out but I try to maintain that time blocking as much as possible. This helps me feel focused on the task in hand and not constantly switch between the tasks. I don't even think about podcast recording, editing or social media posts for the episode during my work hours. I already have too much on my mind during that time. If we have clear boundaries in your schedule, it will help you focus more and stress less.

The last tip is to have a brain break. We all are so busy these days doing something or the other. It does not matter if you are working or not. If you are a homemaker or not. We all have things to do and places to be at. We all are constantly running, not sure towards what but we are running for sure. Just pause for a second and try to remember the when was the last time you saw a beautiful sunrise. When was the last time you felt bored. Sometimes, it is important to feel bored or have absolutely nothing to do. We are humans, not machines. You are not some kind of supercomputer or perpetual machine. You need a break. You can have a break. The faster you understand this the better it will be for you and your own mental health. I am not talking about a long break or a vacation or a gateway. Although if you want it, that is good too. But what I am talking about is a small brain break. Take a break in between your to-do list. If you are working, get up from your desk, walk around for at least a few minutes. Do a couple of stretches, maybe meditate for a minute or two. Do this frequently. I think I have talked about this before but let me tell you a quick tip that I have been implementing for months now. I have alarms set for every hour from morning 7 to evening 7. My alarm goes off at 7.50, 8.50, 9.50 and so on. As soon as my alarm goes off, I get up, if I am sitting and I walk around for 10 minutes. If I am in a meeting, I just stand up and walk on place but I for sure get up every single hour. If I am a little free I just walk around the home for 10 minutes and then get back to my work. This gives me a little brain break and makes me feel refreshed. You don’t need any fancy vacation for this quick break. Trust me this might sound silly or too simple to have any real good benefits but I guarantee you this will boost your mood and will help you focus more on the task at hand. Our brain is not wired to multitask for prolonged periods. We overburden it with way too many tasks at the same time. If we simplify our routine a little bit and try to give a breather to our brain, it will function better and more efficiently. Rest is necessary for our brain too. In this fast paced world, we all are doing our best to keep up with our mile long to-do list. But multitasking is not the answer always. There are ways that we can explore to get a lot of things done but with focus and grace. It is our duty to our own mental and physical health. It is you who have to take care of your own. Few days back, I saw a funny picture somewhere. It had a quote on it saying, , I can’t function, my brain has too many tabs open. It was too funny. But really, you are overwhelming yourself with unnecessary burden. Stop that multitasking wherever possible. I know there are certain areas where multitasking is good and may be required too. I love to listen to music or audio books when I workout. I prep multiple things when I meal prep on Sunday. I sometimes talk to my sister while I cook so yes, there are times and places where I multitask and I don’t think I want to stop that. Because it either saves my time and makes me feel good at the same time. It does not add to my stress but instead it acts as my stress buster. I know you will have a similar list and I don’t want you to give up on multitasking altogether. But if doing certain tasks at the same time is stressing you out then that is your warning signal. As they say, Most of the time, multitasking is an illusion. You think you are multitasking but in reality you are just wasting time switching from one task to another. Just remember, The irony of multitasking is that it's exhausting: when you're doing two or three things simultaneously, you use more energy than the sum of energy required to do each task independently. You're also cheating yourself because you're not doing anything excellently. You're compromising your virtuosity.

In the words of T. S. Elliot, you're 'distracted from distractions by distractions'.

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