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Multitasking is Good for You!

By April Hadley, MSW

Are you thinking what I am thinking?

“I thought multitasking was bad for you!”
“Isn’t multitasking the exact opposite of mindfulness?!”

You’re probably reacting this way for good reason. Studies have shown when we try to focus on more than one thing at a time, it can cause a 40% drop in productivity. It can also lower your IQ by ten points, which can feel the same as losing a whole night of sleep! And if you use a cell phone or hands-free device while driving, it is comparable to having a blood alcohol level of .08%.* Yikes!

Multitasking certainly doesn’t seem like a good idea but is it really that simple?

One of my favorite stories is that of a Zen master who instructed his students to be mindful of doing one task at a time, “When you read, just read. When you eat, just eat.” One day, in their communal home, a student found the Zen master reading the paper while also eating breakfast. Thinking he had caught his teacher in a bind and feeling a bit smug, the student challenged him, “Master how can you read the paper while having breakfast? You always teach us, ‘When you read, just read. When you eat, just eat’?” To which the Zen master replied, “When you eat and read, just eat and read,” and then went back to reading the paper while eating his breakfast.

It definitely feels easier when the answers to my questions are simply black and white. “Do this.” “Don’t do that.” But the story of the Zen master and the practice of mindfulness invites us to step into the gray areas of life with wisdom and discernment. Mindful awareness asks us to notice when we are multitasking and wisdom stays with this noticing long enough to ask “Is this multitasking helping me? How is it impacting my present moment experience?” Awareness flows into wisdom and wisdom flows into discerning the most helpful action in the moment.

In this spirit, I want to challenge you to begin multitasking throughout your day in a potentially helpful way. I want you to practice multitasking your breath AND whatever else you may be doing. A student in our current chronic pain class had an epiphany when she realized how important it is to tune into the flow of her breath throughout the day. She asked the profound question, “Can I breathe AND be here?” What a beautiful question! Can I multitask awareness of my breath AND whatever else I am doing?

I think this kind of multitasking is vital to our health and well-being! Here are just a few of the benefits multitasking with your breath can offer:

1. The breath will tell you if you are feeling stressed or relaxed.
2. The breath will anchor your attention in the present moment.
3. The breath is a reminder that you can always begin again.
4. The breath can offer perspective on how precious and fragile each moment of life is.
5. The breath can help you slow down.

Are there other benefits you can add to this list?

Make a commitment to multitask today because it is good for you to BREATHE AND BE HERE!

*The perils of multitasking [infographic]