The Multitasking Syndrome

by Aidan Donnelley Rowley

The Multitasking Syndrome

I have become a Multitasking Maven (or “Multitaskmaster,” if you prefer). And I’m beginning to wonder whether I’m proud of this fact.


I read books while listening to music and checking my phone on the elliptical. I surf the Internet while reading magazines while chatting with Husband while watching television. I respond to emails and write emails and brainstorm blog posts while watching my kids. I eat while working and walking. I have been known to sniff out salons with high-speed so I can leave blog comments while tending to my toes.


Is this multitasking madness a skill? Absolutely. To succeed—hey, to survive—as parents and professionals and people in this world, we must be able to juggle many things at once. Try as we might, we cannot carve the day into tiny units of time in which we tackle one discrete goal at a time. Life is messy. Categories bleed. We must multitask. And ultimately, multitasking is all about efficiency. And efficiency is so attractive, isn’t it? But at what expense? If we fracture our focus so much are we really savoring our moments? I don’t think so.


Is multitasking a syndrome? You betcha. Taken too far, I think that multitasking is a syndrome, an illness, a pathology. When we splinter our selves over the spectrum of our moments, we become completely unable to give ourselves fully to one thing at a time. And when we do try, when we do dare ourselves to commit one thing, we sufferers of this syndrome, get antsy, even guilty, that there are so many other things we could be doing at the same time. We worry that by not tackling these goals, we are losing ground and speed. And this is no good because then we are distracted from that one thing on which we are presumably focusing. Lovely.


Is multitasking a symptom of modern life? One-hundred percent. We live in a world of goals and gadgets. A world in which we overbook ourselves and stretch ourselves thin. We race by each other as we navigate our days, phones and coffees in hand, minds numbed by an excess of expectations and media. When we stop to chat with someone else, a fellow athlete in the sport of life, we say predictable things, “I am so busy these days. I don’t know where the time goes. I am oddly so exhausted.” And then we keep going. And going.


And going.


Enough with the generalities.


I write this post today because the Universe has been sending me messages to slow down. And this is odd because (a) I am not sure what the “Universe” is or why I am capitalizing it; and (b) I didn’t know that the Universe had my email address.


Two weeks ago, I was walking home from the gym. I was stopped at a corner checking my phone. And I stepped off the curb and was almost hit by a car. Note that I live one block from the gym. There is no need to check my email during the forty-five second walk home. (In fact, Tim Ferriss suggests we check our email at most twice a day. He also calls Multitasking a virus.)


On Friday, I took Toddler to the ice cream truck on our corner. It was a splendid almost-spring day. We wore matching mommy-daughter sunglasses. We held hands. I checked my watch while my little girl was debating whether she would have the Spongebob or Spiderman pop. It was getting late. And I realized I hadn’t placed the catering order for my Happier Hour tonight. When we got to the truck, I told Toddler to wait one minute while I made a call. And I did. I was put on hold. Toddler was put on hold. After a minute or two, she looked up at me and cried. Big, fat pay attention to me tears. Not good.


Later that day, I was scrambling to get us ready to head out of town. The girls were bathed and PJ-clad and scampering around. I started to pack. And then I saw her. Baby. Walking down the hallway, hands covered in blood. In blood. She was clutching my razor.Miraculously, I didn’t panic (too much). I scooped her up and whisked her to the bathroom and ran her hands under water. I promptly realized that the tip of her thumb was cut. I placed it in my mouth while I found a towel. I applied pressure and called Daddy. And then ran her to the pediatrician in her blood-soaked monkey pajamas so that a nice and amused doctor could apply Neosporin and a “finger Band-Aid.”


I am fine. Toddler is fine. Baby is fine.


Thank goodness.


But here I am realizing that it is time to slow down. Sometimes, it is good to do one thing at a time. Like grieve. These past several days have been soggy and heavy. And I know why. And I have for once allowed myself to stop. To roll around in my feelings instead of running from them, instead of anesthetizing myself with busyness.


Yesterday afternoon, Toddler and I took a quasi-nap together. I closed my eyes while she watched Tigger & Pooh and she closed her eyes while I watched Real Housewives of Manhattan. Yes, technically this was multitasking too, but it was a start. A good one. Because in those hours I could have been emailing or tweeting or leaving blog comments. I could have been writing a chapter or outlining a chapter or cleaning a closet. I could have been at the gym. But instead I chose to stop. And breathe. And listen to the sweet sounds of my little girl sleeping.