The Side Effects of Chronic Multitasking

Are you a chronic ‘multitasker’?

If so, it can be a good thing, but it can also be bad for you in certain ways, which I’ll explain below.

Can you take a phone call, organize your notes (or dishes), keep an eye on your child (or computer project), answer the door (or an email), AND take your sweater off (or suit jacket), or put one on, ALL at the same time?

Silly, I know.

But we live in a world where multitasking is like a new religion, or, at the very least, like the new cultural norm, spanning everywhere from the classroom, to the office, to the kitchen to the…well, anyway.

In fact, these days, if you DON’T learn to multitask AND do it well, I think that your chances of excelling or even just keeping up begin to fall exponentially starting as early as high school, if not sooner.

For adults, multitasking is also a way of feeling that we’ve ‘done it all’; that we’ve succeeded in gaining a feeling of mastery or CONTROL over the day, the hour, or even the moment. Nothing got missed or got by us.

But what are the downsides of all of this?

As a physician, whenever I prescribe something to someone, I’m used to giving them my speech about the “risks, benefits, side effects, AND alternatives” of whatever treatment we might be considering, especially those which carry higher potential downsides for them.

So what is the RISK of multitasking?

The main one is the loss of being present and Deliberate in the moment.

Put another way, we risk disconnecting from ourselves.

I want you to try this exercise:

Next time you find yourself running a bit ragged, in overdrive per se, STOP.

Then, I want you to take and do ONE thing.

Yes, just pick something and carry it out with your full concentration, or what I call Deliberately. (One of my ten adult skills in the REALADULTS acronym where the “D” stands for Deliberate Living; the “S” stands for Stop.)

Next, notice what you feel.

When I do this exercise, which I do regularly to recalibrate my pace and check in with myself during the day, I am able to literally feel an internal shift and a realignment of sorts.

Realignment of what?

A realignment with myself.

When we constantly multitask, we set in motion a pace that can eventually get away from us. We lose the Deliberateness of our day, and we lose the connection with ourselves.

Paradoxically, the thing we do to feel like we are “in control” (i.e. multitasking), actually promotes a feeling of being out of control and no longer at the helm of our lives.

It also increases the cumulative stress of the day.

I bet if you could arrange to measure your own pulse, blood pressure, and cortisol levels while you were in the groove of multitasking versus when you were Deliberately focusing on one task at a time and being present with yourself, you’d be surprised at what you’d find. (Yes, for those of you who know me personally, you guessed right that I’ve done this with myself- except for the cortisol level; you don’t just become a psychiatrist by accident you know, you’ve got to be at least a little bit odd…I mean special.)

So, with that I leave you to carrying out your own personal experiment in the name of regaining true control of yourself and your day and lowering your overall stress levels.

Hey, you never know: if you practice Stopping and carrying out your day in a Deliberate manner, it might just rub off on those around you; AND if our kids pick this up from us, trust me, it’s a good thing.

In your search for true peace,

Anthony Ferraioli, M.D. and

P.S. Thanks to all of you who have purchased my new book, Don’t Get Married! (Unless You Understand A Few Things First). A portion of the proceeds from the book (from all of my books) go to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. You can also visit their website to donate directly. Thanks!


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