Stanford has released results of a study suggesting that “the minds of multitaskers are not working as well as they could.” This isn’t news to me… I’ve been conducting my own self-study and repair for many months now.
For years, as I evolved as a supposed multitasker extraordinaire, facilitated by Internet technology, I was persistently balancing a large number of projects on my little nose. However I had a growing sense that things weren’t working as they should, even though I seemed to get a lot of things done. I felt fragmented, and I was losing bits and pieces of conversations and occasionally missing appointments or failing followups. I was pretty clear that my mental faculties weren’t diminishing, rather, the demands on them were growing.
The solution (which I’m still successfully processing) came a couple of ways. For one thing, after 40 years as an armchair Buddhist, I got serious about the Buddhist practice of mindfulness. In Buddhist practice you step back and become aware of the workings of your mind, which in my case was pretty chaotic with all the facts and events and processes I was tracking. I could see clearly how my cognition was fragmented. It was like a cup filled to overflowing. I had “multitasked” beyond my ability to track and organize.
The other thing was seeing the problem reflected by my business partner, David Armistead, who has met with me almost every day for the last two years as we’ve worked to evolve our business. Our work has been demanding – we’re not just building a business, we’re also thinking through philosophical and practical impacts associated with the growing use of social media and the growing demand for sustainability – big subjects that require as much focus as we can muster, given their breadth. David could see in our various meetings that I was losing focus at points – actually shifting focus to other things that were urgent, if not critical. He’s given me persistent helpful feedback as I’ve pared down the number of projects I’m tracking and get laser-focused on our the work we’re doing.
If you need to “defragment,” you don’t necessarily have to adopt a Buddhist practice, but mindfulness exercises are helpful. Feedback from someone close by is very helpful. But the main thing is to stop thinking you can “multitask,” because you’re only ever focusing on one thing at a time, and what you call multitasking is exploding your focus into fragments.