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We are always being told not to multitask. That multitasking is not only bad for you but in fact an illusion. You only think that you are totally focusing on something like writing a blog post while you are also looking at Tiktok or stirring a pan of simmering millet while drinking a mug of tea. Whenever I consider a standing or walking desk I wonder if it’s essentially multitasking. I then reject it on these grounds (and not because I would rather lounge on a floor cushion while working).

But the truth is that multitasking sometimes feels like the only possible way to do things. There are so many tasks. Being able to squeeze in some quick wins while working on the big things makes it seem as if you must be doing something right. And don’t lots of us like multitasking? It makes us feel glamorously busy and strangely capable.

It’s like a terrible interpretation of the story about putting stones in the jar and then the pebbles and then filling the gaps with sand. Life is full of virtual, allegorical sand which is just as pesky as the real stuff can be. Our learning, in an effort to be more efficient, is to clog. We bring in thousands of tiny irritants that must be dealt with.

Learning to focus

Is all hope lost? Is there an alternative to an existence where we have to endure doing 100 things at once because we can’t break our training? I believe that there is hope for an excellent reason. Let me explain. Occasionally my attempts to plan let me down. I remember as I’m dozing off that I haven’t finished writing something that has an impending deadline. On some occasions, several pieces of work suddenly become urgent. Or I am unable to put off looking at a tax return or an insurance renewal any longer. 

When this happens after an initial panic during which I am not multitasking. Unless breathing and chewing the end of my pen at the same time counts. I then settle down to whichever task I have decided to begin with. Presumably the most important and urgent because despite a tendency to overthink the Eisenhower matrix most of the time, a deadline is marvellous for providing clarity.

Suddenly, I have a focus. Then I move on to the next thing and repeat. Do the work without any side tasks. So no filing, looking up suddenly urgent facts or foam rolling exercises. Also a lack of notebook clearouts, skirting board wipes or browsing of my inbox.

Is this way we need to train our brains? Can we consider it a special power to call on if needed (like Superman)? Well, then we’re free to think how wonderful modern life is as we order shopping while watching a soap opera, commenting on a photo and drinking gin