Why Being Bored is More Efficient than Multitasking
Trying to get too much done leads to getting nothing done well.
Although I’m the first one to wake up and the last one to go to bed, I sometimes feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get things done. I have endless lists and future lists of all of the things I’d like to accomplish. Like teaching my children a foreign language this summer. Yeah, that didn’t happen. Or that huge canvas I was going to paint with my kids (the one that’s still in my closet). I don’t know if I’m more annoyed that I haven’t finished these projects or that they’re still on my list.
These days I’m running around between drop-off, teaching, pick-up, dinner, dishes and before I know it, it’s 10 o’clock at night. It seems like the list never ends, kind of like the pile of laundry I have to get to.
Constantly doing things is more stressful than it is rewarding. When I’m on the go, I find that I rarely have time to sit down and eat a normal meal. And if I do then I’m also catching up on messages as I eat. What happened to just doing nothing but putting food in my mouth?
Fast-paced culture has successfully guised multitasking as productivity. Yet multitasking does not equate efficiency nor does it save time. I can hold a mug of coffee just fine, but the second I reach for my purse, phone and keys — it spills. A glass vase can rest undisturbed for months on my counter, but when I’m rushing out the door with a stack of books in my hand and a water bottle in tow, somehow I manage to knock it over. In each instance, I was not paying attention because I was engaging in too many activities at one time. Multitasking did not help, it only made things worse.
The invention of multitasking stems from impatience. Why do I have to carry a million things when I’m running out the door? Why can’t I come back for each thing? What would happen if I actually went back and forth a few times? I’d get more exercise. And that’s a good thing.
Being bombarded with constant to-do tasks takes a toll on our nervous system. In fact, our nervous system has become so accustomed to over-stimulation that we often feel that if we’re only doing one thing at a time, that we’re not doing enough.
A few days ago I was talking on the phone while washing the dishes. I was reaching for what I thought was the dish soap but I was so distracted by the conversation that I grabbed an open bottle of honey instead. I don’t know how long I poured it on the dish brush, but by the time I noticed my hand was dripping in honey. As I stepped back to take in what had just happened, the honey spilled all over the sink. And pot. And floor. Guess how long it took to clean up that sticky mess? Hint: It would have taken less time to wash the dishes first and then talk on the phone.
Mishaps and accidents happen when we’re not paying attention and that usually happens because we are doing more than one thing at a time. Multitasking disrupts our thinking and awareness. Whether it’s texting and driving, talking while engaging in a different activity, or trying to jam a million things into a few seconds. We throw our body off balance when we are doing too many things at once.
By definition, multitasking is “the performance of multiple tasks at one time”. It necessitates a quick shift in focus from one activity to another. It agitates the nervous system. It creates anxiety. It also doesn’t produce great outcomes.
In fact, current research suggests that our brain doesn’t really do tasks simultaneously like we previously thought. Instead, we switch tasks quickly. It creates a stop/start process in the brain which isn’t efficient and leads to more mistakes.
Confusing multitasking with a sense of accomplishment is where many of us go wrong. Getting a lot done and then checking things off of the list feels good. It feels so good, in fact, that it can become addictive. But at what cost to our well-being? Sure, I can chase my to-do list all day, everyday, but is the cost of being constantly frazzled worth it?
What would happen if one day I just threw out my list?
Spoiler alert: The world would go on.
Yesterday, my daughter told me about her day at school. She mentioned that they rested for an hour on their rugs. “Did you sleep?” I asked. “No” she said. “Did you play?” I inquired. “Not really, well, I did have three paper clips.” “What did you do with those three clips?” I asked. “I pretended that two of the clips were legs and the other was the body. Then I imagined a boy with a crazy hairdo. Then I thought about some humans. And then I was looking at the rug and pretending that I could knit the ends,” she replied.
Meanwhile, here I am running around all day, and can’t think of anything that may have sparked my imagination. Yet my child can be bored for an hour and a world new world unfolds before her.
What she shared with me made me realize that I really miss being bored. The kind of bored where you just sit there with nothing to do. The kind of bored where when you turn your computer on and wait for it to load, you just sit there and stare into space and don’t feel the urge to check your phone while you wait.
How many of things on our lists really have to be done immediately? The major things are: eat and sleep. After that work and play. All the other stuff can wait. Really.
If you’re not ready to throw the list out completely, just cut it in half. Then use all of that extra time you just won to be engaged in each activity. Like the next time you wait in line at the post office or grocery store, look at the people around you rather than your phone. And when you sit down to eat your next meal, just sit down to eat. Count how many times you chew your food — for fun. Or just be bored. That can be fun too.
Our culture has forgotten how to be bored. We need more boredom in our lives. Being bored is one of the best things that you can do for yourself. Not only will it help boost creativity, avoid over stimulation, and relieve stress, it also helps generate mindfulness.
When we are mindful and conscious of how we are carrying out activities, we are more likely to slow down. When we slow down, we are more likely to engage in one thing at a time. When we engage in one thing at a time, we feel more relaxed and balanced, and subsequently, we carry out the activity more efficiently.