In the early part of the millennium, multitasking was all the rage. It practically became a badge of honor to tell people how well you could multitask. “I can cook dinner while talking on the phone, feeding my toddler, doing a load of laundry, and putting the finishing touches on my 800-page novel!” We were all quite impressed with ourselves, and technology seemed to support our new multitasking brains. With smart phones you can do anything and everything, right?
Well, as I’m sure you’ve read in the last several years, multitasking is not really a thing. Oh, we may think we’re doing it all, but our brains are not built that way. It turns out that rather than being able to handle several tasks at once, our brains are set up to switch from task to task very quickly. So it’s more like jumping from one thing to the next without ever finishing any of them, at least not right away. Sound familiar?
My sense of urgency in trying to multitask has only been made greater since the birth of my daughter. Even as I write this, I’m literally on the edge of my seat to finish this sentence because she just woke up from her nap. I bolted up as soon as I heard her cooing, but then decided to at least finish my thought. But trying to keep my train of thought going while listening to her gleeful cooing is quite difficult.
Now, as I sit back at my computer with her by my side, my brain struggles to remember where I left off. See what I mean about not quite finishing things?
And of course, this problem does not discriminate. I think we all struggle to deal with the world’s demands to multitask, all the while knowing that our brains are not built that way. And when you compound the urgency and frustration of juggling daily demands with bipolar disorder, some symptoms can rear their ugly heads.
For me, this manifests first as irritability. If I don’t keep it in check, it can escalate to an angry outburst or a complete crying meltdown. And if things get really bad, I simply shutdown and want to hide from the world. If I don’t regularly take time to slow down, then my urge to isolate grows exponentially. It’s as if my mind cannot take one more interruption or interaction, and I simply can’t face the outside world for another second.
So how can you avoid exacerbating your symptoms and instead make the change from multitasking to single-tasking?
- Slow down your breathing: I think the easiest answer is to first slow down and breathe. You can try a simple breathing exercise or simply take a few minutes to notice your breath and slow it down. Once you have your breathing under control, you should feel somewhat calmer.
- Slow down your movements: The second step is to physically slow down your movements. When I’m rushing to finish things I move quickly but also clumsily. I end up making more mistakes that I have to deal with and that further slows me down. I’ve realized that if I just move slowly to begin with, I won’t have to redouble my efforts. But I’ve noticed I can only slow down my movements once my breathing has slowed down as well.
- Set aside time to practice: You don’t have to suddenly commit to single-tasking exclusively. But just try practicing it when you can. I know single-tasking is not always realistic, especially with smartphones at hand. You could be finishing an email when your phone rings and you simultaneously get a text and a Facebook alert, and the pin someone shared with you on Pinterest. Keeping our mind on one task is difficult but we can deliberately set aside times to lessen these interruptions and practice single-tasking.
Even something as simple as sitting down to enjoy your favorite TV show can be used as a lesson in slowing down. I often tell myself I’m going to take a break and watch TV for a half hour. Instead that turns into Googling something I heard in the TV show, texting my sister, checking my email, getting up for a snack, doing a facial, and before I know it, my intended break has dissipated. So instead, I take the time to put my phone on silent and even put it in another room if necessary. I appeal to my sense of laziness or just pure exhaustion, knowing that if it’s in the other room it’s simply too far away and it will be less of a temptation. Of course, this is just one solution dealing solely with the interruption of my phone. But you can apply single-tasking to just about anything you’d like.
It all comes down to taking one step at a time. I heard a priest describe it as “taking the next best step”. It’s Alcoholics Anonymous’ “one day at a time” broken down even further. And as one blogger writes, it’s the practice of mini-habits that can turn into meaningful changes. Whatever way you look at it, single-tasking is infinitely more effective not only for our productivity, but for our mental health as well. Single-tasking can provide us with more focus, clarity, accomplishments, and ultimately peace of mind.
via bpHope – bp Magazine Community