Multi-tasking is Impossible

Weekly Word # 12 ~ August, 2007

I read the results of a big survey recently, asking people about how they multi-task, and why they do it. As you might guess, the main reason people said they do more than one thing at once is because of the pressures of time—there is SO much to do, and SO little time! They spoke of “time speeding up” and “time flying by.” I confess I have used that language in the past myself, although I am not sure what it means.

Some of the things the people said they did to multi-task were a bit scary: The read the paper, watched a DVD, ate breakfast, applied make-up, and/or changed their baby’s diapers while they were driving. Other choices were a bit more benign, such as always reading while they were eating, and listening to instructional audios while walking in nature.

If time is speeding up, and we have more to do that ever before, it seems to make sense to double up and try to do more things in less time. We drive faster, talk faster, eat faster and faster food, and sleep less. And we multi-task. Maybe.

I would like to suggest that the idea of multi-tasking is a myth, and the antithesis of living a well-lived life. Have you ever actually tried to direct your attention to two or more places at once? It is impossible. “You can only serve one master.” Your attention can only be directed to one person, event, object, or task at a time. In so-called multi-tasking, what you are doing is directing your attention back and forth from one place to another, sometimes so rapidly that you are not aware there is a disconnect in the process.

Let’s say you are a mother, and you are out for a walk. You are getting exercise plus perhaps pushing your baby in a stroller, and talking on your cell phone. You are not doing three things at once; you are moving your attention back and forth between three things very rapidly. Your attention is actually being fragmented by the experience.

An American swami used to tell his students: “If you are going to eat, eat. If you are going to read, read. But don’t eat and read!” One day a group of students found him sitting eating and reading. The said, “But Swami, you told us to eat or read!” He looked up from his breakfast and said: “If you are going to eat and read, eat and read!”

Most of us do not have that ability, and perhaps the Swami did not either. Next time you think you are doing two or more things at once, stop and see. Aren’t you actually doing two or three things back and forth, back and forth, back and forth? And if that is the true nature of multi-tasking, where is your attention NOT? I would suggest that your attention is not in the moment, in the Now of the Eternal Present.

I would also like to suggest that a life well lived is a life lived in constant communion with the Present Moment. The only way to live that life is to train your attention to be focused on the feelings, sensations, and surroundings of your human body in the moment. How does the air feel? How does your relationship with that baby feel? What does your body feel like, walking? Do you see the clouds, and the hundreds of green colors in those trees? Are you aware of the phase of the moon tonight? Does the intense awe of creation wash through your feeling body with such intensity you can hardly contain it? That is the joy of Life. That is Dancing in Joy With Life. The Joydancer.

Perhaps time is not speeding up. Perhaps is it us, speeding through life, running to reach some elusive goal of completion and success. We have to get it all done, we have to do more, be more, better, faster, more, more, more. There is no end to that race, and when you get tired of running it, you may discover you missed the scenery, awe, and juice of Life along the way. I encourage you to not let that happen.

Life is happening right now. Where is your attention?

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Allan Hardman is an author and expert on personal and spiritual transformation, relationships, emotional healing-- and a Toltec Master in the lineage of don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements.™ Allan teaches in Sonoma County, CA, and from “The House of the Eagles,” his winter home in Chacala, Nayarít, Mexico. He guides Journeys of the Spirit to sacred sites in Mexico, and hosts wellness vacations in Chacala. He is the author of The Everything Toltec Wisdom Book, and co-author of two books with Deepak Chopra, Caroline Myss, Dr. Andrew Weil, Prince Charles, and others. Visit Allan’s extensive website at, and TACO, his online spiritual membership community.