Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.


The Downside and Danger of Multitasking


Recently, I witnessed a young girl texting while riding her bike. No surprise that she slammed into the back of a car that was parked on the street. I heard the slam and the scream and ran to see if she was okay. She whimpered, got back on the bike, and rode off – texting once again.

She was fortunate that she hit a car that was not moving. But watching her behavior got me thinking about multitasking, how we oftentimes put ourselves at risk or, at least, take away from what might be an enjoyable experience, by trying to do too much at once.

When it comes to tasks, it’s become more difficult to focus on a single one rather than tackling several at the same time. It takes perseverance to stay the course on a single objective and ensure that it’s done correctly and thoroughly. It’s easier to run from one thing to the next without any real focus. Perhaps a lot of things get done, but nothing gets done really well.

Our culture’s multitasking obsession has taken us further away from the mindfulness that everyone talks about wanting these days. Something else has been lost as well: the pride of doing one thing really well. Today when I hear people bragging “look how many things I can do at once. I’m a multitasker!” I sigh. After 20 years of running at such a pace professionally, I came to understand one thing is true: The grand prize for winning a pie eating contest is more pie.

Life isn’t about how fast the next 15 things on the list can be accomplished. It’s about enjoying the process of accomplishing each of the 15 things on the list, while understanding that there is no end to the list. So revel in the process of life, which hides itself within the endless tasks.

To accomplish something requires the keen ability to ward off any fleeting thoughts that might distract from that goal. Thoughts pop in. Stop what your doing! Put  a load of laundry in! Make that grocery list while driving! (Seriously, I know someone who does this between stop lights.)

My favorite: people who exercise while also reading a magazine or talking on the phone. Walking the dog while taking phone meetings for work is a way to get many things scratched off that to do list. Yes, much is getting done, but the quality of that experience and the mindfulness, which is part of the holistic health of an individual, is absent.

There is no mindfulness or presence of mind when we are focusing on everything else but what we are doing in that moment; that is the definition of distracted. If we aren’t connected to the present moment, we aren’t tuning into our intuition, nor are we enjoying experiencing what ever it is that we are doing. Where’s the enjoyment in life if we cannot smell the roses?

While walking the dog, enjoy the experience of walking with the dog. Fully take in what it is to be in nature with a loving creature taking in the smells, feelings, and sounds of what is around us. Our colleagues deserve us fully present and engaged, as much as ourselves and our dog does, so we can connect with them after the walk.

One could ask, who benefits from this multitasking? Much got done today, but you were not present for any of it because of the constant focus on what comes next. The accomplishment came at the sacrifice of the connection to self and the moments were lost.

When we are not fully present with ourselves there could be other consequences. Lacking presence with ourselves, we may miss the early warning signs that an illness might be gaining momentum within the body. We are effectively disconnecting from ourselves. Additionally, we could be injured because off our lack of attention to what is ahead of us, like the girl I saw riding and texting. My guess is it will take something more serious to get her attention back to mindfulness.

Mindfulness can be practiced with a simple activity like wiping down the counter top. There could also be opportunities to be more productive if we just focus on doing one thing really well, honoring each activity with our full presence, seeing it through with our best effort to its completion.

When it comes to relationships in this age of technology, it’s become commonplace to see a family having dinner in a restaurant with individual members glued to their phones instead of being fully present. The ability to make face to face personal connections within the family is eroding rapidly, much less connections with those outside the family unit.  As a result, with our lack of focus and presence, are we missing critical signs of unmet emotional needs of our close ones? Not to mention important opportunities to connect or make an intervention for someone in need who may be unable to reach out and communicate their need effectively.

Multitasking once in a while is a skill. However, it should be seen as a surge technique, not as the constant if we wish to create meaningful long lasting connections. Mindful moments are where the enjoyment of life can be found, if we can simplify and slow down once in a while.

Darcy Hotchkiss is the author of Life in My Hands: Healing Myself, Healing Others.