The Insanity Of Multi-Tasking And How It’s Destroying Your Creativity

In our forever-busy hyper-connected lives it seems like there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do all the things you need to one at a time.

So the only option, the only way to keep up, is to divide your focus, energy and creativity amongst all these demands, and become an efficient multi-tasking machine.

Robot
image: Warm 'n Fuzzy

A great solution, right? Not exactly.

In our creative lives for example, this equates to taking on a dozen different projects at a time, and frantically flitting between them, throwing on them the little inspiration and creativity we can muster before hurtling on to the next one to give that equally little quality time and attention.

You might think you’re being very productive by having so many projects on the go, and keeping them all spinning in the air at once.

But how good are any of them, truthfully?

How many of them are work that you are incredibly passionate about, greatly enjoying, and dedicating the time and focus they deserve? Any?

Multi-tasking is a myth. Not only that, it’s an insane way to try to be creative.

And it’s slowly destroying your creativity, diluting it, numbing it, and criminally under using your talents and potential.

We can only do one thing well at a time. We’re just not designed to be machines.

Some of my favourite creative pursuits are writing poems, salsa dancing and cooking. If I give any of them my full attention, the results are more often than not very pleasing. I love doing them all. But only if I have the space to love doing them.

If I tried to write, dance and cook at once, it’d be impossible. But that’s just the literal, most obvious way that multi-tasking doesn’t work.

Say, one evening, I want to cook a delicious meal, write a few new poems, and go out salsa dancing. There’s no way I can give my full focus to them all.

If I’m cooking, I can’t relax and enjoy it fully (both the preparing, cooking and eating) knowing I’m watching the clock the whole time because I’m off to dance soon. Then if I did go dancing and all I was thinking about was the poems I wanted to write when I got back, I wouldn’t be fully immersed in the dancing. Which I’d already arrived at in a hurry, having rushed my meal before and not enjoyed very much.

I’d end up frustrated at having spent an evening not really enjoying any of the three activities I tried to squeeze in.

If however, I decided to do just one of these activities in an evening, then afterwards see how I felt about doing something else, I would enjoy them many times more. I’d allow myself the space to become fully engaged and fully absorbed in the moments at hand, live them as fully as possible.

Ultimately, we’re all searching for what makes us come alive, what makes us catch our breath, smile a huge smile and say: “Yes! This is what life is about. This is me, this is what I love to do.”

It doesn’t need to be something that’s on your own or entirely selfish, and for most of us our best times involve other people, and helping and connecting with others in some way.

What’s important is giving yourself that opportunity to fully appreciate and enjoy how you’ve chosen to spend your time. You won’t do it with multi-tasking.

Do you want to look back over your creative life on your deathbed and see a vast collection of wonderful experiences, highly memorable moments and art that you gave your full self to, art you can be proud of?

Or see only a dissonant blur of thousands of days that looked the same, all lost in half hearted attempts to give attention to one thing before rushing off to another and another, your cupboards heaving with a sorry looking set of half finished unloved projects?

It’s not difficult to reject multi-tasking and take the better option:

Pick one thing. Set some time aside. Enjoy that one thing as best you can. Then do the same for something else another time.

They don’t need to be radical life altering projects. Sitting down for half an hour to write a letter to a friend, or bake some gorgeous cookies, or sketch the view from your window can be so rewarding if you give them your full time, attention and focus. They become not shallow rushed activities, but instead each miniature meditations in a tiny area of your life.

In fact one definition of meditation is “A devotional exercise of contemplation…”

That’s what you’re doing when you focus on one thing, you’re devoting your time, energy, creativity, everything you have, to that single activity. There’s no other way to appreciate something more fully. And after all, isn’t life about feeling engaged and alive, appreciating each experience and moment as fully as we can?

Forget the insanity of multi-tasking, it’s dumbing down and destroying your creativity.

Focus on what’s important, pick one thing, enjoy it, give it your all. Your creativity deserves, you deserve it, we deserve it.

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11 thoughts on “The Insanity Of Multi-Tasking And How It’s Destroying Your Creativity”

  1. Hey Dan,

    Not sure I agree completely but I get what you are saying about focus. I find that variety and multiple projects helps to feed my creativity. I can jump from one to the other, sometimes they feed each other and if I love them all, I have energy and focus for each when I’m working on it. I’m also a morning person, kind of hyper organized and love to do many different creative things (filmmaking, painting, writing, home decorating) so maybe it’s a personality dependent thing. Interesting post. Creativity is mysterious.

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    1. Hi Katie,

      Yes I too like to have a number of different creative outlets, and for example when I’m really into dancing, that “flow” does carry over into other areas of life, like writing and so on.

      I know from experience, the times I’ve got most significant stuff done is when I’ve focused on one project at a time and worked in fairly short intensive bursts. Just said to myself – for the next two hours / day / weekend I’m working only on this one thing and give it my full attention. Rather than doing a bit here, then going off and doing something else then something else.

      I guess it’s about immersing yourself in one thing, and the calm and creativity that comes from that. Most importantly, I think it’s about eliminating distraction. Which is another arm of procrastination really. All these creative struggles are so interconnected!

      I absolutely agree that we are all different and must try different things and see what works for us and do more of it, see what doesn’t work and do less of that. That’s true with creativity and all of life, finding our own unique path.

      Stimulating comments, thank you.

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  2. Dan,

    This is a great post. I absolutely believe that Multi-tasking is a myth. Now that I am simplifying and doing the things that matter most, I can see how much I was really struggling to keep up before. When I was reading email, writing and answering the phone (among other things), the goal really was just to keep up.

    Now, even with several projects, I am devoted to each, but one at a time. For once, my mind is clear!

    Thanks for the great post.

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    1. Thanks for your comments Courtney.

      I agree about your mind being clear, it’s that horrible chaotic and anxious feeling in your head as it’s frantically trying to focus on a dozen things at once that it’s such a relief to take a step back from. Rather than being in a house where tiny fires are appearing everywhere and you’re rushing around trying to stamp them out before everything goes up, focusing on one project that’s important at a time is more like sitting barefoot by the hearth of and enjoying the steady raging glow of a log fire you’ve created yourself.

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  3. Yay for meditation! I feel like the problem is not just physically doing two things at once, but letting our mind think about one thing while we are physically doing another. That is much harder to change but is possible with practice.

    One of the most frustrating things to me is the increasing use of cell phones. It’s normal for many people I know to talk and drive, text and try and listen to something, navigate, walk and carry on a conversation. Put the phones down!

    Thanks for a great post.

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    1. I know Jackie, it’s like we’re expected to do at least three things at once as the bare minimum, and anything less we’re being inefficient or lazy.

      I think it doesn’t help that there are jokes and stereotypes about men not being able to multitask and women being able to quite freely, because they have to. I think both genders can learn from practicing just one thing at a time and giving it their undivided attention. Thanks for your comments.

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  4. Thank you so much for your great words. I think you are right on target. In the past 6 months I have jumped into the online world more intensely and have been feeling frazzled. While I think that all the connectivity to the world is wonderful, it makes concentrating on one thing almost impossible. I am in my studio working on my jewelry, then I hear the email alert from my trusty smart phone. I can’t resist, I stop what I’m doing, get up to see who has emailed.

    I think my smart phone needs to find another home while I am enjoying my creative time!

    Btw, just found you through Twitter & am signing up to hear more great ideas! Thanks again, Stacie

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  5. […] All introverts need alone time. Being alone isn’t just how we get our energy — it’s how we do our best work. We do our thinking, dreaming and creating in our rich inner world, and our work suffers in the presence of other people. That’s because other people force our minds to multitask and multitasking is bad for creativity. […]

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