I have an addiction. Admittance is the first step, they say, so I am boldly daring to walk in the light.
I have an addiction to multi-tasking.
There. Now I have said it out loud. I suffer from an obsessive compulsion to constantly accomplish as much as possible in a day, every day. To accomplish my goal, I have subconsciously convinced myself that I can squeeze every possible second of productivity out of my life by not only constantly working to accomplish defined tasks, but by attempting multiple tasks at once… all of the time.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re considering the stated fact that it is actually physically impossible for someone to do two things at once, and that while we may have multiple tasks started at any given time, and while we may actively bounce back and forth from one to another, it is physically impossible to multi-task. I respectfully disagree.
I have found a way to beat the system using a complicated methodology for multi-tasking. I listen to audiobooks while showering. I take conference calls and conduct phone interviews while commuting. I blog while watching football. I even read my Nook while curling my hair, because the ten seconds that I have to hold the curling iron still and just…wait… feels to me like being trapped in suspended animation. My body itches at the thought that I am wastefully only accomplishing one thing.
My addiction to multitasking is compounded by another obsession that I have, which is a feeling like I can only ever exist in two modes: Hyper-productivity mode, and sleep. I wake up around 4:30 a.m. every day, and immediately get dressed to work out (while watching ESPN). Then I shower (while listening to my audiobook). Then I get dressed (and read my Nook while curling my hair, because I like to have two books in-progress at a time). I work at my office from eight to five, polishing my nails while sorting through morning emails, (don’t judge, it’s the only time I can get it done), eating lunch at my desk (lunch breaks are for quitters), and checking emails while waiting for the printer and walking to and from meetings. Then I drive home, while making phone calls to friends and family (don’t worry, I use Bluetooth), then work several more hours (while eating dinner at my desk). If I stop working and decide to sit on the couch for a few minutes before bed, I’m scrolling through Pinterest, liking Facebook posts, or back to the Nook. If I put one of my devices down, even for five minutes, I’m unconscious on the couch. Feeling any small amount of reprieve from focused multi-activity, my body completely shuts down until the next morning.
Do I acknowledge that my behavior is unhealthy and could lead to burn out? That it likely explains my high general stress levels and acute moments of panic?
Do I intend to stop?
Oh, sorry, did you think this was an article about self-realization, acceptance, and reform? Who has time for all that?
The truth is, I have always been like this. For as long as I can remember, I have been filling my days with as many commitments and responsibilities as possible. I over-committed to extra-curricular activities in high school, worked, and took classes during the summers, and over-loaded my courses to graduate from college early, while having an internship, a part-time job at a coffee shop, and while holding two leadership positions in on-campus organizations.
The reality is, that I don’t know any other way to be, and what is maybe worst of all, is the understanding that I am happiest living in the constant pursuit of accomplishment. I’m self-aware enough to know what is really driving the multi-tasking. It’s not how I feel while I’m cleaning the cup holders of my car while commuting to work (guilty), it’s the feeling I get when the task is complete and I can check it off my to-do list. Every book that I finish, every mile that I run, every position of leadership that I earn gives me a sense of satisfaction and of worthiness. I feel as though if I am not actively in pursuit of accomplishing a goal, even one as inane as cooking every recipe within a single cookbook (yes I aspire to this, and I have dozens of cookbooks with each recipe made only once), then I am somehow wasting my life, my potential, and my opportunities.
Activities that most people find comforting and satisfying, make me feel deplorably guilty. I don’t believe that I will ever experience, or appreciate, the all weekend long Netflix marathon movement. Watching episode after episode of a television show while sitting on the couch feels sloth-like to me. Granted, I did watch four seasons of a television series that my sister got my hooked on, but I did it while running on the treadmill in the winter, because I was training for my third marathon.
While each achievement provides the addictive sense of accomplishment that I crave, it is never enough. I never feel like I have done enough, finished enough, read enough, cleaned enough, or satisfied everyone who relies on me enough. When I lay my head down on my pillow at night, I don’t praise my inner-self for all of the day’s accomplishments. Instead, I agonize over the 48 emails that I didn’t answer, or the grocery list I didn’t get to create, or the vacuuming I traded for baking while watching a basketball game.
I know I’m not the only one out there who is trying to control a multi-tasking disorder fueled by a desire to over-achieve. As a matter of fact, I am convinced that there are more of us than you think. We are traveling executives, soccer moms, college students, and even retirees, constantly filling-up our days with so many activities and tasks that we push ourselves to the limits of health and well-being.
With a mantra of “abandon all sick days ye who enter here,” we are on the road to uber-tasking ourselves into the ground. Why push ourselves so hard that we feel free time is something to be shamed? Or that we should all subsist on the least amount of sleep needed to be reanimated the next morning with four cups of coffee and a scone, consumed while reading the latest news and sitting on a conference call on mute.
Why must we quantify our successes in the number of emails sent, miles traveled, books read, meetings attended, and days – full days – of our lives spent focusing only on checking items off of a to-do list?
I anticipate that someday, after I have completely burned out of my job, my hobbies, and my volunteer work, that I will realize the simple pleasure of meditation, watching a movie on a Sunday night, or walking…just walking, without listening to music, scrolling through emails, exercising the dog, or catching-up on phone calls. Until then, every fiber of my body screams at me for even considering such behavior. I can hear a didactic voice in the back of my head lecturing sternly, “Do you realize that in the time it would take you to watch that movie you could finally wash the bath towels? They’ve been piling up for days! And what about that cookie recipe you wanted to make? Oh, and don’t forget all those e-newsletters you’ve been bookmarking. Watch a movie next weekend. You can’t justify that now when there is so much you have to do!”
If you are a former multi-tasking addict, who has recovered and learned not only the benefits of single-tasking, but the joy of doing nothing, let me know your secret. If you need me, I’ll be running on the treadmill while reading a magazine and listening to my iPod.