Multipotentiality Doesn’t Mean Multitasking
Photo courtesy of Marco Antonio Torres.

Multipotentiality Doesn’t Mean Multitasking

Written by Emilie

Topics: Productivity

Editor’s Note: this is a guest post by Sarah Bates.

When you tell people you’re a multipotentialite, do you ever get this reaction? “Oh, but how could you get all of those tasks done at once?” For a long time I thought it was impossible to be a multipotentialite, because the idea of doing more than one thing at once was such an alien concept to me.

Once I accepted my multipotentiality, I started trying to cram as much as possible into my day in the belief that I’d be happier with more tasks to do. I had somehow linked being a scanner to multitasking.

You can probably see where this is going…

Did you say “huge burn out and overwhelm?” You’d be dead right.

I didn’t learn from the lesson the first time either, instead of deciding that multitasking was a bad idea, I came to the conclusion that there’s something wrong with me. Because after all, all these other amazing scanners out there are living their amazing lives with loads of projects going on in a day!

My day got filled with more activities, trying to multitask as much as possible and justifying my twitter / facebook / youtube switches while blog writing every few seconds with “I’m a scanner, that means I’m good at multitasking.” I checked out multiple time management techniques in order to fit more into my day, to be more productive. I refused to choose to the point where I refused to even choose one thing moment by moment.

This eventually led to a bit of a breakdown. At the time I was working in a supermarket and felt so frustrated and overwhelmed with everything that was going on in my life that I quit my job in order to get in on track. Depression hit, overwhelm fogged my head every single day and I experienced a huge identity breakdown. Worse, I was still under the impression that I needed to do more stuff all at once in order to be happy. And I wasn’t getting anything done.

Through this mass of depression and overwhelm, the answer hit me like a construction ball to the face. The very idea that I needed to do more stuff with my day was ultimately inaccurate.

Every single item on my big list of goals didn’t need to work be worked on every single day. In fact, that was the thing that was driving me to depression.

You don’t need to and probably don’t want to do all of those things at once. The simple truth is there are only so many hours in the day. There’s only one thing you can do in this very moment (as in this. very. moment. The moment you’re spending reading this sentence) and even if you’re flipping back from this article and twitter every 30 seconds you’re still only focusing on this article right now. Multitasking has its uses… sometimes. But not when you actually need to get work done.

Don’t Spend Time, Spend Moments

Contrary to popular belief, there is something you need to choose: What are you going to do in this moment? Even if you flip between interests every half an hour, every few days or every few years, choose what you’re going to be spending your moment. Then stick to that moment for however long you need to, and then change.

Actually getting this sorted was such a massive game changer in my own life. I actually started out using the Pomodoro Technique where I’d take breaks every 20 minutes or so. After 20 minutes, I was ready for a break and that was when I was allowed to check twitter or facebook. But after my break, I get back to work on whatever it is I want to work on, whether that was the first activity or the next one, always focusing on that one task at a time.

Try doing this next time you find yourself overwhelmed with too much going on: just focus on ONE thing for just twenty minutes. It’s not for the rest of your life, or even the rest of the day – just twenty minutes!

Your Turn

Have you confused being a multipotentialite with multitasking? How have you dealt with it?

Sarah is on a mission to turn her life into an adventure! Her blog Everyday an Adventure documents the journey from unemployed bum to one of exploration, excitement and fun. She also obsesses over film making, roleplaying, improv and more. Knows where her towel is.

17 Comments

  1. Erica says:

    I always felt overwhelm with all my interests and related projects. Recently I started just concentrating on 2 projects at a time, twice a week each, and have relieved myself of a lot of the guilt and “I have so much to do!!” It’s really helped me feel more motivated and productive.

    • Sarah says:

      That’s awesome Erica! Giving yourself permission to just do a couple of projects at once is so much more empowering than trying to do everything at once :) *high five*

  2. Sharise says:

    I’m not sure I’d say I’ve confused being a multipotentialite with multitasking, but I’ve certainly felt like a “bad multipotentialite” before because most of the time I don’t work on multiple projects or explore a bunch of interests in a single day. In fact, I tend to spend large amount of time focused mainly on one project/interest which doesn’t seem very scanner like at all. But I am indeed a multipotentialite. There is so much I want to do and learn that sometimes I get overwhelmed and frustrated by it all. I get a little obsessed with learning about new interests until I’ve reached a certain level of understanding (or, as Emilie says, mastery) and then I tend to get bored and move on to something else.

    Not wanting to squeeze 20 different projects/interests/activities into one day doesn’t make me a “bad” multipotentialite or less of a multipotentialite. Some of us work best when working on a single project for an extended period of time and others work best having multiple ongoing projects that they work on a little at a time. If you like to work for 20 minutes before switching to something else and I like to work for several hours (or days/weeks/months/years), that doesn’t make me less of a multipotentialite.

    Nice tips Sarah! Deciding to focus on one thing for a certain period of time can be a great way to fight overwhelm, especially when you have a lot of projects you want to work on, and choosing to do something for just X minutes is a great way to get started when a project feels overwhelming. I like what Erica said too, two projects twice a week. It’s good to figure out how many projects you feel comfortable working on in a period of time and how many is overwhelming.

    • Sarah says:

      Aww man, Sharise, I totally get that feeling of being a “bad multipotentialites”. But even if you only did one different projects per year you’d still be a multipod! Like you said, everyone is different. Us multipotentialites seem to be suckers for trying to conform to an “ideal”.

  3. Thea says:

    Sarah, thanks for this. I’ve had this thought sneaking into my head like a sneaky little bugger that only wants me to be unhappy. Now that I’ve realized it’s vermin, I’ve called pest control. Let’s see how well it does against flamethrowers. *evil grin*

  4. Bruno says:

    This is a very valuable reflection for all the Homo Universalis out there, thanks Emilie.

    The way I manage to get things done is to do two tasks at the same time: One is always creative (writing, designing, etc), the other one is just scanning through information and saving it for another time. This way I avoid the “first your vegetables then you can have the ice cream” speech that my inner mother would love to drop on me.

    Yeap, I like my vegetables with ice cream (Who said you couldn’t smoosh your food too?)

    • Sarah says:

      Ohh, Homo Universalis, never heard that term to describe us before! I like it. And vegetables with ice cream… Hmm… I might have to try this out one day…

      I’m glad you found it valuable :)

    • Shanna Mann says:

      I learned to do something similar to Bruno; I can’t *quite* focus on just one thing. Or rather, I work in short bursts, and having a chosen task to switch to keeps me from wasting my time on twitter. It needs to be a bit passive, but it doesn’t have to be a waster of time.

      Great post, Sarah!

  5. chongolio says:

    I have totally been using the pomodoro technique lately (During my pomo breaks I walk around the yard with my ukulele.) I have smooshed the pomodoro technique with the parts of http://www.thesecretweapon.org/ that I find useful. This has really helped me to stay focused and not let any one of the many things that I am actively working on or interested in learning slip into any brain cracks.

    I try to keep one “get it done today” daily task from each of my “top shelf” interests and have them broken into about four or five categories. I do my best to get these things done first chance that I get. After those things are knocked out I am free to dabble in whatever I feel like jumping into. I know it sounds kinda fastidious but it really works for me and helps me to get things done that need doing and not feel like I am neglecting anything.

  6. Arne Tietz says:

    Neuro science has found out that the brain is not able to multitask. What we think that multitasking is is missleading, it is just switching between tasks. And the brain needs some time to really “switch” to the new task and have all his resources by hand.
    And, and that is awefull to hear, doing “multitasking” makes the brain LESS able to doing multitasking and you may loose your ability to differentiate between important and unimportant things. I heard the nice expression of “digital dementia” coming from the life of in the internet and doing too much “multitasking”.
    So it is much better to switch between multiple tasks and working on ONE for as long as you may want, 20 minutes is OK (the brain needs MINUTES to really switch). Mine is 30-45 Minutes depending on the task I’m doing.
    And as a former IT worker, real multitasking is only possible if you have at least 2 (TWO) processors. So, do you have 2 brains? No? Than it will be better to switch between your tasks in appropriate time slices.

  7. paul says:

    Even at quick glance I have seven interests/necessities, there are many more. I would literally lose my mind (and almost did so at one point) if I even dreamed of doing them all at once. Then it occurred to me that since I can’t possibly do all of my activities at once, then trying to do 3 of them is of them same relevence. Can’t be done. However, in light of that I came to realize that many of my interests sort of overlapped in a way. It just so happens that at times I’ll see a new perspective on one thing, and notice how it actually applies to another thing in a way. More often than not when I take up the second thing in question, I’ll be correct. So in that way I’m actively learning and applying knowledge and techniques to multiple facets, while seemingly only “doing” one thing. I don’t ever feel its arbitrary, after all there are certain aspects of activities that would catch my interest, and so naturally of the same vein. It only makes sense that they would carry over to each other at times.

  8. Janice says:

    Reading this post and the comments has been helpful. I had never heard of multipontial before; I called myself a Renaissance woman. I have trouble getting the big tasks on my list done, those that are the stepping stones for manifesting my bigger goals, and end up doing all the little things and then wasting a huge amount of time playing solitaire and mahjong or on facebook. I saw some other links here about procrastinating- must read!

    Thanks all.

  9. Jay Johnson says:

    Ah yes, I’ve dabbled in the Pomodoro Technique for a few years. Still trying to tweek it to fit me though.

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