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How To Escape The Multi-tasking Trap


The existential crisis that humanity is facing right now is forcing each one of us to ‘do more and be more’. So how do we deal with the mounting workload and the pressure to achieve more?


Sonam Khandelwal

Management Student | Ex-Assistant Sales Manager, Lemon Tree Hotels

If I had to visualise one typical scene of our everyday lives, it would look something like this—‘Staring at the laptop screen, trying to make sense of what the speaker in the meeting is trying to convey, while Google search is working in the background with 10-15 tabs open because you are searching for facts which support your viewpoint. In the middle of it a WhatsApp message pops up and you begin to type your reply, while sipping on a cup of coffee/ tea.’

Does this not resemble what our daily lives look like while we try to juggle between 100 different tasks and strive to achieve our best at everything we do? We take great pride in the fact that we are so good at multitasking and almost over 50% of the people utter ‘multi-tasking’ as the first word when asked about their strengths. Pause, take a break and ask yourself, “Is it really a strength?”

While trying to multi task so flawlessly were you able to make any sense of what was happening in the virtual meeting or give the correct response to the WhatsApp message or were you able to enjoy your well-deserved cup of coffee/tea? The answer to most of these questions will be ‘no’ because we were everywhere and yet we were no-where.

The existential crisis that humanity is facing right now is forcing each one of us to do more and be more. So how do we deal with the mounting workload and the pressure to achieve more? The answer lies in the simple principles of ‘Ikigai’.

For those who are yet unaware of this word, ‘Ikigai’ is a Japanese principle of life with no equivalent word in any language which can describe it in its true sense. It can be translated as ‘the happiness of being always busy’. This concept talks about finding meaning of life that is more worthwhile and fulfilling.

Let us unruffle the issue and see how some of these principles can bring an end to our everyday conundrum of exhausting work and stressful life.

Magic of micro-tasking

The best way to look at the entire problem is to break it down into smaller pieces and examine each component as a whole. This is exactly what we can do with our never ending to-do list. Each task needs to be broken down into smaller steps and then worked on in isolation.

We must understand that our brain is not programmed to process distinct sets of information simultaneously. The best productivity and efficiency is delivered when we channelize our energy towards the task at hand. Now this does not mean that we should work on only one task or one project in a day. The idea here is to divide our work day into smaller frames and fitting each task into that time frame.

So when I attend a meeting, I focus on the task at hand, and isolate my mind from the perturbation of all the other tasks. This easy step would not just help us achieve better results, but will also significantly reduce the stress level.

Finding your natural flow

Once you have segregated your work and you work on one task at a time, your next step is to build focus and stay in the game. This may sound as an easy and logical step, but hard to implement. We have made ourselves so accustomed to distractions that focus does not come easy. However, with conscious efforts and practice, it is an art that can be developed.

Immerse yourself in the work that you are doing. If you are researching on a topic, stick to the requirements of your work. List down the points you wish to know and research on them. Internet may be a vast unexplored world where it is easy to get lost, but remember your destination and your path will lead you there. Meanwhile, all the mails, texts and calls can be put to rest. The world can wait for some time. Even for your repetitive tasks and daily routine, find a rhythm in the things you do, strike a balance and finish what you started before jumping on to something new.

Perfection vs moderation

The world is demanding and everybody wants flawless results. However, it is important to understand the relative importance of things. It is good to strive for excellence, yet it is important to know that every being has a unique area of expertise. Know what you are best at, observe what makes you feel great while working and build your excellence in it. You may be studying 10 different subjects but you may excel in 2-3 which are your best, in all the rest you can be moderately good at. Mediocrity in some areas is not a bad thing when you build a sharper edge in your area of excellence.

Compartmentalize your work and see the order of priority. What matters to you more, where do you want to excel? Invest more energy and focus in those differentiating areas, for the other tasks strive for effectiveness i.e. achieving moderately good results within the specified amount of time, energy and effort. Remember, not everything in this world is worth exhausting yourself for! It’s good to be a jack of all trades but don’t forget to master some.

Power breaks

This is the most important principle to maintain your efficiency. While you may be having a long hectic day with your to-do list overflowing with endless tasks, it is important to give yourself some rest. While switching from one task to the other, give your brain a breather of 10 mins. 8-10 minutes is the ideal time to rest and rejuvenate. Use this time to unwind yourself, cut loose from the heap of tasks, from the pressure of work. Do not let your brain wander and exhaust itself over the results during this time. A small walk, a brief chat with people we connect or a short meditation can work wonders to relax ourselves. Just go with whatever helps you relax and stay calm, it is an individual choice after all!

These are some principles that can improve our mental health, give better results and last for longer. When we take it slow, we can work longer and achieve more. It is important to appreciate the simple balance of life!

If you wish to know more about the principles of Ikigai, I would recommend you to read the book “Ikagai: The Japanese secret to a long and happy life” by Hector Gracia and Francesc Miralles. Till then, let me know in comments below what strategies you use to get through those tough days.

Note: Digital Dialogues holds the right to use this piece of content as authorised by the owner. If you wish to use material from this article for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’ you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The views expressed in the article are personal. Also, there might be references taken from various sources on the internet. The main intent is to share across information to the reader!

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