Escaping the Multitasking Trap

Discover the hidden perils of multitasking addiction and reclaim your focus and fulfillment.

A women sitting at a table juggling eating, working on a computer, and using a computer.
Pexels | Photo by Mizuno K

I vividly recall the precise moment when my addiction to multitasking took hold. Yes, multitasking became an addiction—an insidious habit that consumed me.

In my early twenties, I worked in a bustling environment that demanded my attention and quick reflexes. During lulls in customer traffic, I relished engaging fully with each person, sharing stories, offering a listening ear, or sharing a lighthearted joke. But when chaos descended upon me, with phones incessantly ringing, customer lines growing, and a barrage of questions from colleagues and managers, I resorted to multitasking. I believed that managing everything and everyone simultaneously was the key to getting things done.

However, my addiction didn’t stem from accomplishing tasks; it sprouted from the positive responses I received due to my perceived efficiency. I prided myself on smoothly navigating through my to-do list while simultaneously holding conversations and responding appropriately with smiles, laughter, and clever remarks. I appeared to effortlessly juggle phone calls, transactions, and inquiries, portraying the image of a natural-born multitasker.

I was not.

In reality, I was merely establishing detrimental habits that would eventually lead to burnout as the years went by and as I ascended management and leadership ranks.

So, what precisely was the nature of this addiction? It was the gratification from others’ admiration of my speed and ability to accomplish numerous tasks “simultaneously.” It was the ability to maintain a cheerful demeanor and quick wit amidst stress. It was the recognition I received for seemingly effortlessly handling challenging individuals and emotions. The accolades for being able to “do it all with a smile” fueled me to navigate my workdays until these tendencies started encroaching on my personal life, making me overly independent in thought and action, akin to a juggler on stage.

It took a long time for me to critically examine these behaviors and external responses and comprehend the dissonance between them. I had become so deeply entwined with the label of being a multitasker that I had unwittingly consumed the addictive elixir of positive reinforcement for my actions. I failed to acknowledge the toll this took on my energy, leaving me exhausted and irritable at the end of each day, eventually becoming a general dissatisfaction with my work and personal life.

Only when I confronted the consequences of my multitasking identity—mistakes that could have been avoided had I slowed down and focused on one task at a time—did I begin to grasp the profound effects of the monster I call the “time cruncher” on all aspects of my life.

By taking a step back from the frenetic activity and silently witnessing how my actions contributed to mistakes and discontentment, I managed to disentangle myself from the grip of multitasking. I learned to unwind before embarking on activities requiring my undivided attention or to course-correct during the process.

It’s been a blessing. Why do I call it a blessing? Because I learned how to detach my sense of self from the label others bestowed upon me—a label I once believed defined my very identity.

And you know what I discovered about myself? I am the sole arbiter of my identity, actions, needs, and desires. That’s it. This inner reflection gave me profound insights into how external opinions could derail me from my true self. Ultimately, I learned to accept that this label and the compulsion to multitask were unnecessary for my existence or effectiveness in my professional and personal endeavors.

To be transparent, I still occasionally fall into the multitasking mindset. It isn’t always detrimental, as being adept at managing multiple tasks, items, or people vying for your attention can be advantageous. However, I now possess a heightened awareness of its benefits and drawbacks, enabling me to recognize and rectify any potential harm. It has become easier for me to discern when engaging with multiple tasks simultaneously is needless. This journey has also taught me the value of seeking and accepting help when necessary. It is an ongoing learning process, with some lessons taking a lifetime to internalize and become intrinsic to one’s being.

Are you a multitasker? Reflecting on your own experiences, what benefits do you derive from multitasking, and where do you perceive its drawbacks?

DEBORAH BLAKE DEMPSEY is the CEO & Founder of Human Being Human, LLC. Deborah is a Life Strategist, Leadership & Transformational Coach, Writer, and Speaker. She is the author of The Hoppernots, an uplifting, can-do story about forest dwellers coming together to defeat a common enemy and is told within a diverse ecosystem teeming with life and purpose.

Deborah’s mission is to engage with and encourage people to fulfill their greatness in their personal and professional lives by helping them understand who they are, identify their motivational drivers, define their purpose, find their voice, and develop their potential and curiosity. She brings to her coaching more than 25 years of experience as a leader, having held strategic, financial, and operational leadership roles. She has also done the work–and continues to challenge herself–to figure out who she is and how she shows up in this complex world. Deborah is particularly interested in working with individuals struggling with self-confidence, personal or professional identity, facing burnout, and trying to redefine themselves.

She is a certified coach and holds an MS in Psychology from Southern New Hampshire University.