People say multitasking is a myth and no one can properly execute it. I agree to a certain extent but not fully. There are times when you can effectively multitask. One of them is when doing mundane tasks that do not require active involvement of my brain. For example, boiling milk, mopping floor, watering plants, washing clothes etc are all tasks that don’t need any useful thinking. I try to multitask when doing such boring things. Most of the time, you will see me with ear plugs listening to audio books or podcasts on my phone. I really feel productive doing multitasking in such situations. But should I multitask? Are there any benefits? Or worse yet, any disadvantages?
Before we continue further, I want to clarify that some tasks which others might feel are mundane and don’t really need attention may actually need a lot of my attention. One example that comes to mind is driving or cooking. For some it may be second nature to handle driving and listening to audio books, but I find it very distracting and I cannot manage both. May be if I were a better driver it would not be such an issue :). I can listen to music but cannot learn. Likewise, if I am trying to cook something (which I almost never do), I will forget something or the other, or might add salt or sugar twice. So not for me. Perhaps better cooks out there can do it. What I am trying to say is that multitasking works differently for different people.
Some tasks will always require a lot of attention from you. Take for example doing any other task while spending time with kid. That never works. Don’t believe me? Try it out. Ask your kid that you will play with them and try to do any minor distracting task like checking the time on your phone. Kids will immediately know you are getting distracted and put you straight. Or at least my kid does :). Another task that comes to mind is when doing strenuous exercise. No, I am not talking about that breezy jog around the street. I am talking about mindfully lifting heavy weights that can injure you if you don’t listen to your body as you are lifting them. Or when practicing kicks as in martial arts. There are more examples where you cannot be distracted but you get my drift right?
Now going back to the original question about whether multitasking is beneficial at all. I really don’t know for sure, but I can say with some degree of confidence that too much of it is not good. I am the kind of person who really gets anxious when my brain is not actively being used and not learning anything. As I mentioned before, if I am mopping then there is nothing for the brain to do. I feel anxious and listen to some podcast. This serves me well as I learn new things. But what it was doing to me was that I am unable to stay still without something to distract my mind to the point that when I am watching a movie, I am unable to relax when there are boring scenes.
So I decided to run a small experiment to get rid of this over indulgence of learning at every waking moment. After all, most people I admire have all in some form or the other practiced meditation or keep their mind quiet for prolonged periods and have always mentioned the positive benefits of doing so. And here I am going towards the other end of the spectrum filling up my brain all the time. So the last time when I was cleaning the spider webs in the house, I deliberately decided not to use headphones to listen to audio books or podcasts. In fact I did not even listen to any music. I was just observing my thoughts.
It was a fantastic experience. Not only was I much calmer, but it felt very rejuvenating. Moreover I got the idea to write this post during that time. What more can I ask :P. While I always struggled to mediate in one quiet place without doing anything, this was much better and slower introduction to it. Meditation does not mean, closing eyes and removing all thoughts. It is more about observing your thoughts. Normally thoughts are about other things in life, like what should I wear and what should I do. But observing the thoughts is next level thinking. If you can observe your thoughts, you can bring back your mind to calmness. While I don’t think I can make this a daily habit, I would like to practice this kind of meditation more often.
Not only did I free my mind, but I got some inspirational new ideas for my projects and what I want to do in future. Do give it a try when you are working on some boring tasks and let me know how it worked for you. It is not always about learning, but you need to give some time for your brain to cross link your learnings to come up with some interesting solutions to problems or how you can apply what you learned in real life. No wonder our body needs sleep, otherwise our brain would never get rest if it were left to us.