The Monster Called Multitasking

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As I write this, I am switching from one window to another on the computer screen, checking email, and turning to my phone to reply to messages, trying to listen to a podcast my 9-year-old discovered to determine if it is child-friendly, entertaining my 7-year-old’s questions: “Why doesn’t God marry?” “How did God create everything in 6 days, and not in 6 seconds?” “Will heaven be boring?”, and checking to see if my 19-year-old is getting ready for her class in 30 minutes. I sip my coffee, bite on some fruit, click “like” on my 24-year-old’s IG to show support for his attempt to make bibingka from scratch in the U.S., and then get up to put one sock on, stopping to make sure I didn’t forget to pack my gym towel. I have been scolded a lot of times for crocheting and texting while driving even in standstill traffic. I tried to reason out that at least I don’t put my make-up on–while in motion.

Multitasking is a strength a lot of women have, owing perhaps to the many hats we moms wear. My being comfortable with multitasking is an issue my husband and I are often confronted with when we don’t get to accomplish the tasks scheduled for a day. I expect him to be able to listen to me while he’s working, while I am everywhere in the house working on everything–but accomplishing nothing!

Just how productive is multitasking compared to sole-tasking?

can multitask perhaps like 99.9% of women, and I enjoy it, maybe like many, who, like me, don’t want to waste time and are into so many commitments in a day–by choice or by demand–from having a big family, or a work-intensive goal, or a goal-oriented mindset, or even a life crisis.

But I have discovered how spread out I have become, and a master of none. I get more easily exhausted as I absorb several pressures coming from all sides! People I interact with don’t enjoy my company because I do not give them full attention. I am distracted, tend to forget things, get misunderstood as a cold and snobbish person, and get frustrated. And I am asking for it!

The more I try to manage everything at the same time, the more monstrous I become! Just like the monster multitasking can be when we allow it to rule in our lives.

Using my cellphone while driving, for example. If not for the recently passed law prohibiting it, I would use my phone as though I wasn’t putting my life, the life of my passengers, and the vehicles around me at risk while driving. I am too confident about operating gadgets and rationalize that it is out of necessity, just like turning on the aircon, or tuning the radio, or getting tissue from the glove compartment to hand it to my child who sneezed at the back. Jeepney drivers do it all the time! They drive, stop to unload and load, proceed to their destination, reach for the fares at the back, count the money, calculate the change, sort out the coins and hand it to the (correct!) passenger. They use a stick-shift; I’m driving an automatic! (Which goes to show that multitasking isn’t just a female-distinctive!)

Look at how Goliath-like I am, seeing everything else as little Davids–conquerable and negligible. Must I wait until I get hit on the head and fall dead before I realize that I am limited?


I have learned much from my husband: choosing to concentrate on one activity and finishing it before moving on to another. This way, quality of work is ensured. I have learned to correct my children’s impression of octopus-me, having so many arms, ears, eyes and mouths to be able to converse with them even when I am on the phone with someone. I have been unfair to friends and loved ones for the divided attention I give them because I am so driven to accomplish everything on my to-do list.

It is a juggling act starting in the kitchen, when we ambition to cook a gigantic production number of a menu all by ourselves. Did our ancestors really have more than one elaborate dish every meal? The pressure to be a supermom is real!

The breastfeeding role is uniquely a mom’s turf. But while doing so one time, I tried to multitask–using my acrobatic skills to reach for things with my toes to get at least one hand free so I can be “productive” and “maximize” my breastfeeding time. Then I realized that milk production was in itself a complex process, simplified only when I am fully rested and nourished. If I am hyperactive, my child is significantly affected, gets fussy, and cannot latch on properly. If I have too many things in mind, the breastmilk supply suffers.

I believe the same goes with any of our tasks. When does the cake get overbaked, or your husband’s favorite polo shirt burn under an overstaying flat iron? When we multitask. When do the kids get sick, and their homework stay unfinished? When I keep on acting as though I had multiple brains, arms, hands and feet!

The more focused we are on one thing, the faster it takes to get results, and the better the quality of these results will be. In the corporate or factory setting, a study on productivity has shown that:

“…the brain does better when it’s performing tasks in sequence, rather than all at once,” Stanford University professor Clifford Nass told Women’s Health. A UCLA research concluded that the “brain is actually ‘dumbed down’ when you multi-task.” Also that “…people use a different part of their brain while multitasking compared to when they learn without distractions.” The study showed that performing tasks without distractions activated the hippocampus–the part of the brain used for storing and recalling information. While when one performs tasks simultaneously, the striatum, the part of the brain that switches on repetitive skills (like riding a bike), was used.

According to Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life authors Paul Hammerness and Margaret Moore, “…multitasking increases the chances of making mistakes and missing important information and cues. Multitaskers are also less likely to retain information in working memory, which can hinder problem solving and creativity.”

No wonder I am so forgetful!

The authors suggest that instead of multitasking, we should try set shifting – “consciously and completely shifting your attention from one task to the next, and focusing on the task at hand.” Full attention on an undertaking will result in a better job, “with more creativity and fewer mistakes or missed connections. Set shifting is a sign of brain fitness and agility.”

I had this false impression that multitasking is an efficient management of my time. But if the brain cannot perform to its maximum when I do two or more things at the same time, I must refrain from multitasking especially when learning something new.

The Monster may have beaten me many times. It’s time to tell it to stop beating on me.

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