THE BLOG
04/16/2014 07:00 pm ET Updated Jun 16, 2014

The Multitasking Myth

Jessica Peterson via Getty Images

Our friend who lives nearby is an über doer. Mother to two teenage girls, she rockets from school plays and art showings to volunteer commitments and violin lessons. She's always on the go, even when she comes to visit. Dropping over for coffee once, she announced, "I can only stay for a minute, then I have to run." Her "minute" (except on holidays) is normally 12 minutes but never more than 15.

I'm glad she includes us in her overloaded schedule, but what's unnerving is that she is never really here when she's here. Like most of us these days she's hooked on technology. As soon as she sits down her oversized smart phone pops out and she's on Facebook. Funny, she's connecting with people -- just not the one's she's actually with.

I recognize that I can easily fall into a similar trap. Mine just looks a little different.

Even though I subscribe to the practice of being present-in-the-moment through mediation and yoga, it's often more of an ideal than a practice. Every day I have a "to-do list," what I need to get done to keep everything moving, and in my mind, to keep everything from falling apart. I plan, scheme and, yes, worry about whatever is coming up next. Finally, I heave a big sigh of relief when something is crossed off the list; now I can go on to the next thing. Yet, once I'm on to the next thing the cycle starts all over again!

Domesticated at school and at work to be focused on productivity and achievement, I have come to recognize that an incessant need to be doing is a trap that keeps us locked in the future. Being hooked on the multitasking myth is a happiness trap -- blinding us from experiencing the fullness of being in the present moment.

I don't subscribe to the axiom that because we are humans we can effectively multitask. We attempt it, but not in a way that's good for us. I was shopping for a new car last week and noticed that electronic collision detection, rear cameras and lane change warning systems are becoming standard equipment. It's a good thing, too, because all of the electronic displays and wireless gadgets in cars these days give new meaning to the term "distracted driving."

According to a recent NPR story, "Humans, they say, don't do lots of things simultaneously. Instead, we switch our attention from task to task extremely quickly."

So despite the hype, we can sort of multitask, but should we?

When I cook and talk on the phone I always overcook something. When I talk on the phone and type on the computer I miss the nuances of what is being said. For me, focusing on two things or more means that my attention darts back and forth driven by the fear that I'll miss something. Fear has a good buddy -- anxiety.

I like to ski and when my form is going to pieces I have to reset. I stop, take a breath and get my body back into the classic skiing position -- forward in the boots, hands holding a tray, shoulders pointed downhill. The same is true when I'm multitasking, caught in the doing trap and am aware enough to notice my anxiety. I stop and reset my attention to focus on what is now.

Once I reset, it is clear that the present moment is a gift -- an opportunity to enjoy and fully experience whatever presents itself. Senses are heightened, colors are brighter and anxiety disappears. What is before me is all that's important right now. Problems focused on the future born from the relentless need to accomplish the next thing are absent.

Clearly, in the present moment, free of the multitasking or the "doing trap," happiness just is.