Have you read the latest research about multitasking? Switching between tasks is less productive. The reason? It takes time for the brain to refocus as it switches between tasks. All that time of refocusing is lost productivity. While the research volleys between multitasking being beneficial and a hindrance, my experience is that it does disrupt the daily flow of work.
Staying organized has become a life-long challenge and goal. I go through stages of trying new approaches. I recently started using the #bulletjournal approach which I've found useful. But like every other method I’ve tried, I waffle between keeping a steady pace and getting sidetracked; times of accomplishing tasks and times for forgetting to stay focused. When I’m at my best, I can maintain a higher level of clarity about what’s important – what tasks need to be accomplished and in what order. When I’m at my worst . . . well, I just feel lost. Have you ever felt that way?
The reason I wrote this blog post was to sort out what makes the difference between staying organized and struggling to juggle everyone on your plate? That's right, I said everyone, not everything. While the research is clear that multitasking challenges the brain’s ability to be productive, it got me wondering if multitasking is more than just a brain problem. What if it is a relationship problem?
I talk a lot in these posts about emotional process. We all have automatic, neurological functioning that operates below a level of awareness. Your heart pumps blood and your lungs expand and contract all without any conscious effort. You’ve been reading this blog and probably haven’t thought once about it. We can expand this idea to other bodily functions. For example, your immune system works automatically. No need to think about fighting off a cold or pathogens; your body does it automatically at varying degrees.
When you combine these automatic responses with a socially oriented brain, these systems are more than automatic; they are reactive. Our bodies are constantly reacting to the world around us. (Actually, from a strict systems perspective, everything that is alive lives in symbiosis and reacts to whatever is around.) We know this is true for humans because of epigenetics. We respond to the world in real time all the way down to our DNA. Our genes are turned on and off by the behavior of other humans (as well as other environmental factors).
As children develop, they learn to allot some of their brain energy towards adapting to the relationships around them, and they learn to allot energy towards organizing themselves. It’s like powering two radar systems. One is monitoring the outside world, and one is monitoring the inside world. Before becoming an adult, we learn how much energy to devote to each radar system. If you grow up in a highly anxious family, where people are reacting to each other at a high rate, then you will adapt by allocating more energy to the radar that monitors family relationships and less to the radar that monitors self. The more energy that's shifted to monitoring others the less that is available to organize self. We all do this, but there is wide variation in how much we do this.
Again, from a systems perspective, this is a multigenerational process. The distribution of energy towards the relationship system and self will be similar between parent and child with limited variation. Some children will learn to spend more time monitoring the relationships system and some will learn to spend more time regulating the self. How much each develops depends on the amount of anxious focus each child receives from the parents. For the child that is in the path of the projection process, they learn to spend more time monitoring the relationship system. Other children are freer to spend more time regulating self.
What does this have to do with multitasking? Our tendency to multitask has more to do with our “read” of the relationship system than with our own goal setting and life direction. But it's not enough to have goals and life directions mapped out. It also requires the ability to stay on track, despite whatever pressure one experiences from the relationship system. For example, you are working on a project that is important to you. Someone comes along and asks for help (perhaps a family member). The decision to help them or not requires some thinking. Is the person asking for help because they are working on their own project or because they are experiencing a sense of distance from you? If it's the latter, then their project becomes a way to pull you back into a feeling of closeness. Is your tendency to help them coming from a place of thinking, or are you feeling uneasy about working by yourself on your project? Are there other alternatives to helping right now? Could you set up a time to help at a later time and date?
The answer to most of these questions is self-evident when one is thinking and not reacting. This is where differentiation of self is useful. There are times when multitasking might be appropriate. The decision to multitask comes out of an awareness of the relationship system and how one wants to relate to that system. While multitasking is not inherently evil, the extent to which we are engaged in multitasking might be a good indicator of the level of anxiety in the relationship system and in self.