on being an effective multitasker.
That's what my resume used to say. I was efficient with my time and could juggle many responsibilities, wear the many coveted hats. I prided myself on it, what a good little worker I was. Hey Carling, can you take over this extra customer, it will just be for a short period of time, we promise. of course I can! do you have any more you need taken off of your plate? because my plate is certainly just as full but I do yoga so I’m great at balance and you can totally just keep piling things up just a wee bit higher.
just as most yoga teachers, I spent many years as a mad wo(man) racing back and forth between a 9-5 job in the tech industry and my beloved classes. I was lucky to have the support of a partner who was also just as crazy and we endured the chaos together. teamwork at its finest, or maybe a bit more like enabling, as we both pushed each other to get better, to explore more, and ultimately do more.
It took me most of my nearly 29 years to realize I’m actually quite shit at multitasking. that as it turns out, I'm not effective at all when I’m multitasking. and to be honest, you're probably not either.
It's quite clear to me that yogis aren't immune to the whole affliction of ‘busy’ that we’ve got going on as a society. Ask most yoga teachers how their day was, and you'll probably hear a long trail of events, a list of class times, studio names, and likely a heap of expletives regarding the bullshit traffic on I-5 at 11:30am - and why is there traffic at 11:30am on a Tuesday anyway? All those people certainly weren't coming to my 12pm class that's for sure.
I've always prided myself on being able to get shit done. prided myself on never letting the ball drop (dont. ever. let it. drop) but turns out, its all kind of a crock.
We’re not designed to multitask. our brains quite literally reject the notion that we should splice our attention every which way and reserve that function for just the important stuff, you know, like walking and checking for danger at the same time. or for habits, like brushing our teeth while turning off the faucet. the easy stuff. we have a limited capacity for information processing and as we add tasks, we inevitably reduce our effectiveness (its science guys). Our ability to multitask is not designed for 3 monitors, 8 spreadsheets, streaming music, Facebook messages, deadlines, loudly chewing coworkers, 87 customer accounts and meetings up the ying yang. it is not meant for changing into your leggings in the car with your daycare on speakerphone whilst planning your class and posting a last minute Instagram.
now, that's not to say that sometimes (often times) that stuff’s gotta get done. most of the time, we don't have a choice in how many stimuli we have coming in and we end up like a kid taking their first batting practice - in there swinging our little hearts out, but whiffing big and swinging at balls rather than strikes just in hopes of getting a piece of something. dear god just let me connect, just once today, those little batting gloves just praying to get on base.
dear god please just let me check off ONE thing on this stinkin’ to-do list.
For many of us, our lives don’t give much of a choice about how much we can or cant do in a day. people are counting on us, we’ve made promises or taken on what we thought we could handle. we’ve got stuff (possibly a whole lot of stuff) beyond our control. And its not that it can’t all still get done, but my approach has shifted slightly these days.
I’ve had 2 big revelations in the last few years. one was yoga and how refreshed I felt after reducing distraction. I'm doing yoga right now. that's it. that's all the things. and while a physical asana practice of course still requires our brains and bodies to function at a high level, it is also highly focused and streamlined work. I realized that an hour of focused practice, even when physically demanding, was more refreshing and restorative than any of my designated chill time. The practice helped me to realize that I was still trying to multitask even in my down time. Need to relax? I’ll lay on the couch for a few. and turn on the TV. and maybe just a quick scroll here and a quick scroll there. and all of the sudden I’m doing all the shit again. making my brain work overtime just when it thought it was going to get a break.
The second, was when I mentioned to Patrick after one particularly busy and disheveled day that I thought maybe I wasn't as good at multitasking as I used to be. was I old? is this like when I started getting hungover after only 2 drinks when I turned 26? is this adulthood? TELL ME WHAT THIS IS. he responded with a casual shrug and noted that “you’ve always been terrible at multitasking.”
my resumes flashed before my eyes. but, but, but…. I’m supposed to be good at all the stuff. all the time.
oddly, I felt relieved. like wait, you mean I could just do one thing at a time and still take care of business?
Have mercy, I’d never thought of that before.
Outside of the unchangeable, (feeding those I'm responsible for, showing up to work, putting gas in the car, etc.), I finally realized that getting one or two things done, really well, at a time felt insurmountably better than half and quarter checking the boxes on 13 different things. I started blocking off whole days or weeks for a large task rather than trying to chip away at it amongst all the rest. Letting my brain get in the zone and actually stay there, thrive there, instead of hitting the reset button every time something new popped into my inbox. The things I was responsible for, I was better at. I felt better doing them and I gave people better work. I’m not saying you shouldn’t ‘lean in’ (thats a whoooooole other beast of a conversation) but I am saying that priding myself on the unreal expectations of ‘soo busy’ and the unofficial title of ‘effective multitasker' actually never really made me any more effective.
and the that whole “be in the moment” thing that we all say but don't usually do, turns out it actually works.