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Busy brain: The problem with multi-tasking

man multi-tasking

Does your brain ever feel too busy? Mine does. And I’m guilty of never giving it a rest.

In my quest to be productive, I always seem to be fitting something in, and I think I’m suffering for it. Even reading is now an activity I squeeze in while on the cross-trainer. Rarely do I enjoy a relaxing hour perusing a book in my favorite chair.

Got five minutes while I wait for water to boil or a web page to load? I can make a quick phone call. Ten minutes waiting for my son’s next track event? Time to check my email/Twitter/Facebook/Pocket!

Through the wonders of my smart phone, I can access all of my social media and the entire wealth of the web anyplace/anytime. But that doesn’t mean I should.

And when I do, I don’t necessarily feel more productive, just more busy, more frazzled, more overloaded.

Part of my “problem” stems from being self-employed. When I worked full-time for someone else, work was at work, and when I left I was done. I could relax at home without guilt because my workday was over.

Now? Not so much. Home is my workplace, and my day is interspersed with activities from both worlds. I savor that freedom and flexibility, but sometimes it’s hard to set boundaries.

I used to enjoy downtime, sitting and thinking or noticing the world around me. It’s good to not be entertained or “productive” every spare minute of the day. I know this.

One of the reasons I like running so much is because I can’t do anything else while I’m out there except notice the world around me, and breathe.

Multi-tasking is a fraud. Apparently, we actually lose up to 40% of our productivity when we force our minds to keep switching gears.

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to get some of that 40% back!

My goals for the rest of the year are to cut back on multi-tasking and allow for those moments of downtime in my day. I’ll try to focus on one thing at a time so my brain doesn’t have to keep switching gears—Scrivener’s full screen/composition mode is great for this—and maybe even block out some time to sit, relax, and ponder. Heck, I might even meditate.

Can't hurt.

Tell your friends!


  1. Reply

    I feel overwhelmed with too much to do. In my case there is not only too much multitasking going on, but I’m making messes of the individual tasks. I’ve recently been finding myself doing tasks in several areas just plain wrong. My actual performance isn’t good with tasks that deserve extra care and time. It comes of having too much to do. (Yes, I do make things right for my customers: I apologize to each of them, tell them the mistake is mine, and fix things at my own cost.) Now I’m slowing way down. I’m sitting back and taking a deliberate break from most business and thinking about my real life priorities. I have some goals that I would like to accomplish and each will need my undivided attention for a couple years. I need to refocus.

  2. Reply

    That’s what’s been nice since my early retirement. My last job was a real multi-tasker. After 17 years of ever-growing brain salad surgery due to more responsibilities, it’s nice to relax now and decide when and which of my personal hobbies to delve into.

  3. S. J. Pajonas (spajonas)


    This is so me. I’m always multitasking, but I swear it’s the only way I get anything done. People ask me all the time how I stay on top of things, and it’s because I multitask. It’s because I listen to podcasts while exercising or emptying the dishwasher, or checking my email while I wait for my kids at school pickup. I recently did find the Pomodoro timer method for writing and I’ll never go back. Multitasking can’t be done while I’m writing 🙂 I do pomodoros (25 min writing, 5 min break, and so forth) until I’ve reach my goal. I love them! Big fan.

    • Reply

      S.J.: I think some multi-tasking is okay, especially for low-load activities (like listening to podcasts while cleaning). For me the problem is that “always fitting something else into this little space” becomes a habit that makes my days overwhelming. I need to build in down time, and I definitely need to single-task the important stuff, like writing. The pomodoro method is great.

    • Reply

      cjsingh101: Now that’s some discipline. I tend to do it the other way around. I’ll go to the library to write. (I really need to do this more often.) I find that because I’ve gone there with that purpose in mind, I’m less likely to “cheat.” Plus, the wifi is so slow at ours, it’s almost not worth using. So, as long as I keep my phone in my bag… 😉

  4. Reply

    I’ve often wondered if I didn’t confuse “busy” with productive. Busy seems to get me jazzed on adrenaline that by the end of the day ends up more of a squandering of energy on stuff. The tip off came when an associate ask me if I could just vibrate in place while she asked a question. But, boy did I get a lot of stuff done.

    • Reply

      LOL, Curtis. Vibrate in place. I love that. I definitely get into that busy-ness, where I feel like I’ve been running all day, but at the end, none of the really important stuff got done, only the easy or quick things.

  5. Reply

    How did you get my picture? Yes, that’s me you posted or at least the way I feel at times. I’m not a ‘writer’; I’m a genealogist, a researcher, an organizer, a bookkeeper, a door opener (for dogs who have to go in and out just because they are bored) and a sometimes cook. My days are full and I’m never bored!

    • Reply

      Ha, Janie, I know, right? You don’t have to be a writer to be overwhelmed! I hear you on the dogs. Zoe needs to be walked for every “break” because our new place doesn’t have a fenced yard (and we can’t install an electric fence). I definitely don’t like to be bored–it’s why I started writing after I quit my day job–but I do need to relax a little. Good luck juggling it all! 😀

  6. Reply

    I so agree, Gwen. It’s important to find that me-time, which is basically doing tasks you want to do versus tasks you have to do. Personally, I’ve always found the idea of multi-tasking to be a myth. For the most part, no one can really do two things at once. There are exceptions, of course, like listening to music or books or podcasts while exercising or housekeeping. Checking emails while waiting for the kids or waiting in the doctor’s office, etc., isn’t really multi-tasking but rather making use of slack time. One could just as easily read a book or flip through a magazine during that time if one so chose. But the siren song of all our little electronic devices is a powerful lure. Ever since I’ve gotten my tablet, I’m checking it all the time (and I swore to myself I wouldn’t become one of “those” people – HA! Joke’s on me!). I’ve been a knitter for years and most evenings that saves me from my tablet mania. Knitting requires two hands which means I have to put the tablet down….. ;p

    • Reply

      Maura: I don’t really have a problem making use of slack time, but I sometimes feel like I’m overdoing it. Then I get sucked into some other thing on my phone and get distracted from what I meant to do… I’m thinking about reorganizing my phone so I can’t see any of the apps, I just have to search for them. That way I won’t go in to check the weather and end up on email, Facebook, and Twitter while forgetting to ever check the weather. 😉

      Thanks for dropping by!

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