Tackling Invasive Multitasking

I already understand that multitasking is a myth, and I try not to do it. Really I do. Still, it has a way of sneaking up on me.

We had just completed a client visit as part of my day job. I was so proud I had written down all the statistics, responses, ideas, decisions we discussed. Afterwards, in the car with the company CEO, our Chief Technology Officer asked me, “So, what did you think?”

All my notes failed me.

Umm…   “I thought it went well…,” was about all I could get out. The C-level executives spent the next several minutes sharing insights, discoveries, and related impact to shared strategies.
I simply sat and observed, wishing I could scan my notes and reply with something brilliant.

What happened?

During the meeting I kept my laptop shut, my phone turned off; I took copious notes; I faced the speaker. I did everything I was supposed to do. I thought.

But my mind was still multitasking. I was still thinking about that uncompleted task back at the office, additional ideas for Edify Hub, how awesome I was for staying away from my electronics, how great it was to have the meeting captured on paper.

Meanwhile, the executives had been listening.

“Be still, and know that I am God:”
Psalm 46:10a

During church on Sunday, the same phenomenon re-appeared. Instead of focusing on insights, discoveries, or spiritual impact to my own life, I found my mind flitting hither and yon to various distractions — even while I faithfully transcribed the Pastor’s outline.

I’m trying an exercise to help conquer this invasive, invisible multitasking. Recently, I have started walking during my lunch time once a week, and I “try” to pray. Instead, I find I spend more time thinking about work, family, plans, or other distractions. Last week, I chose to spend the first ten minutes thinking about nothing. Not trying to solve any problem. Not trying to prepare for a conversation. Not even trying to pray. Nothing. I wanted to “be still” for a moment. And listen.

This is harder than I thought.

Several minutes passed, constantly shooing away ideas, conversations, plans, until I finally started to listen — to hear the insects, the birds, the burbling of the nearby river, the tramping of other walkers and runners. As I consciously selected specific sounds to hear, the noise of multitasking began to fade.

And when I finally started to have a glimpse of what it means to listen, … quietly … intently …,
a bug flew into my ear and scared the daylights out of me.

For a minute and a half, though, I think I was truly listening.

I’m going to continue this exercise. Maybe I’ll make it to two minutes this week.

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