The Dangers of Multitasking (and how I almost burned my house down)

Do you ever feel like the person in this photo?

I know I do. It often feels like my thoughts are zinging around in a million different directions all at once. Here’s a not-so-funny example:

The other day I was working in my office and my husband pulled into the driveway. The dogs heard the car and of course, were going out of their minds barking, as dogs do.

I stopped what I was doing (work, yo), grabbed my water bottle to refill it and dashed downstairs to let the dogs out before they went THROUGH the door.

Then I went into the kitchen to heat up my water (yes, I microwave my water – don’t judge), and thought it would be a good time for a cup of tea. I filled my water bottle, filled the kettle, and went to the door to retrieve the dogs and say hi to my hubby.

Hubby walks in and says “What’s burning?” (of course by this point I had completely forgotten that I put the water in the microwave to begin with). I looked over and there were sparks flying, smoke, and FLAMES.

I had put the metal teapot in the microwave.

The teapot’s plastic handle was on fire, and next to the microwave on the counter was the water bottle. I clearly wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing. I was running on auto-pilot, except there was a mixup at the command center.

In less than 30 seconds, I almost burned the house down.

But isn’t multitasking a way of life?

That’s always what I thought. I used to be able to do a lot of things at once. It was my superpower. These days it’s not as easy, though, and for a while I thought something was wrong with me. Studies even show that multitasking is damaging our brains.

A less shocking reason for absent-mindedness is simply the massive amount of tools and channels we use to receive and send information. There’s just too much information to keep track of.

We live in the Age of Distraction.

In today’s world, it’s too easy to get caught up in the constant barrage of information around us. We check email and Facebook and Twitter and try to read and write and learn at the same time, oh and there’s family and friends and…you know…driving…and things like that.

If I had been paying attention to what I was doing and being more mindful about what I was doing when I set the microwave on fire, this never would have happened. Sure it could have been much much worse, but this was a big wake-up call.

What can we do about it?

Decide right now to create a new habit, and take one tiny step to being more mindful and present. For just 5-10 seconds, intentionally and mindfully focus on the task (or conversation) at hand, and nothing else. It might not be as easy as you think, but keep practicing. With daily practice, you’ll see changes start to happen.

Meditation can also help to train the mind. I’ve been using an app called Headspace that I love. So when I get up in the morning, I make my tea and do my Headspace program. It’s just 10-15 minutes and it sets the tone for the entire day.

We can do this together.

I promise to practice mindfulness, and I hope you will too.

I’m also pleased to report (and very grateful) that my house didn’t burn down, and the microwave actually still works.

I also got a nice new tea kettle. I promise to take better care of this one.