Chasing dreams: Why multi-tasking can be like procrastination

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You’ve got a big deadline tomorrow, but instead of working on your project you find yourself colour coding your closet, organizing your spice drawer, picking up a new book, or finally enrolling in that course you’ve had your eye on. Sound familiar? For most of us, procrastination is no stranger. However, I recently discovered this sneaky sucker often slides under the radar using an alias we like to call “multi-tasking”. This got me thinking: when juggling several goals and commitments, at what point are we multi-tasking and at what point are we simply delaying the inevitable? 

The real issue with multi-tasking is not necessarily the act itself. Many of us can multi-task effectively when it’s required. However, what’s more interesting is the reason you turn away from one thing to pick up something else.

Psychologists actually view procrastination as an avoidance behaviour or a strategy to handle stress. This behaviour is not an indication of laziness, or poor time management skills - it goes much deeper than that: it’s an emotional response to a task we associate with dread, anxiety or fear. To avoid feeling these feelings, we pick up an activity that is more emotionally pleasing instead. So for instance, rather than applying to that job or purging old clothes, you might choose to go to a yoga class or start a new Netflix series. In more extreme circumstances, you might even trade working on a difficult project with an urgent deadline for an easier task with a flexible deadline. We tend to shy away from the tasks that require the most from us, so we delay the challenge by picking up other things.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s important to have strategies in place for dealing with stress when it arises, but if we’re not bringing awareness to the emotions guiding our behaviours, we risk falling into the same patterns over and over again. That’s why I believe chronic procrastination, or multi-tasking, can negatively affect our lives and interfere with our long-term goals. 

What’s at stake

If you’re like me, you have big dreams and ambitions, but you also have a lot of interests and ideas – one minute you’re writing a blog, another you’re brainstorming plans for the future, on the weekend you’re exploring a new healing modality and editing your website, while during the week you’re juggling three books. I’m tired just reading that sentence. I admit it wholeheartedly: that’s been me for quite some time; spreading myself too thin and trying to do too much all at once. 

Being curious and hungry for growth is a positive thing, but it can also get distracting. I realized the reason I was juggling so much was because I was evading full commitment. If I didn’t fully commit, I couldn’t fail. Staying in the safe zone meant undertaking new things to distract myself from what I really wanted while avoiding all the feelings that were begging to be felt.

A couple months ago, I read a quote that made me realize my approach to multi-tasking was preventing me from truly succeeding:

“Settling for crumbs doesn’t keep you fed, it keeps you starving” 

I realized indulging in a crumb here and a crumb there might feel like I’m juggling plenty and getting ahead, but it was really holding me back. I was settling for crumbs when, with the right focus, I could score the whole pie. Every time you avoid something on our to-do list by picking up something else, you’re either delaying the inevitable because you’ll have to do the thing eventually, or you’re sabotaging yourself over the long-term.

I realized my reading habits are a good example of this: for most of my life, I’ve read at least two or three books at a time! When I initially pick up the book, I tell myself I’m committing to the book. Then suddenly, I pick up another, and another until I’m going back and forth and the whole reading process really just takes longer in the end. I likened this to my work habits: Would you rather give something 50% of your energy and be dedicated to the project for a year, or 100% of your energy and be devoted to the project for 6 months? Safe to say I’m only reading one book at a time from now on.

The way I see it, we procrastinate in two types of situations: 

  1. You don’t want to do it, or

  2. You don’t want to face the emotions that arise when you turn your attention to this task

If you’re struggling with the first, realize that whatever is on your plate is there because you allowed it to be. If you’re struggling with the second, like I was, you may benefit from some self-discovery to uncover why you’re evading commitment. In both cases, it’s important to revisit your priorities.

Getting crystal clear on your priorities

My time spent in pubic relations / corporate communications taught me the importance of prioritizing for optimal productivity. It’s simple really: identify and complete the most critical items before moving on to secondary tasks or projects. It’s an easy concept to grasp when you’re getting paid to perform, but what about when you’re answering to yourself? There are certainly times where everything feels important, so the real question is what, above all, needs to happen first? There is a difference between important and urgent. That’s where your priorities come in.

Fill in the blank: in order to feel good by the end of this year, I want to achieve _____. There’s your big priority. Usually, this big goal comes with some emotional baggage. All the good ones do! And, you can definitely have more than one, but I suggest no more than three.

At a workplace, or even at home, many of us will focus on smaller tasks to secure a few wins before tackling the behemoth. Completing those small tasks or starting something new and exciting feels good – you get a mega dopamine rush in the moment – but it consistently takes you away from your most critical work. You may feel great after crossing five things off your list, but when all is said and done, your big goal/project is still staring back at you from the bottom, living to see another day!

For example, my coaching business was off to a slow start because I was consistently picking up new projects to distract myself from the scary reality of owning a business and actually putting myself out there. With every new course and book, I would tell myself I was adding valuable tools to my coaching arsenal which would then help my clients succeed down the road. True to a point, but also my way of validating a diversion.

When you have your finger in every pot, you’re not giving anything the attention it truly deserves and your plate only becomes more full and unmanageable. It’s like having 20 tabs open on your browser = chaos. I now log these ideas when they come up, but I don’t let them take me off course. I remind myself to focus on my big priority, face the emotions as they arise, and I pick and choose the “extra-curriculars" based on what else is happening in my life and how much energy I have available.

Work on alignment instead of hustling

Focused energy fuels your intention; it’s how we are able to use the law of attraction to manifest our desires. If you’re not getting the results you’re looking for, despite apparent hard work, perhaps it’s less about how hard you’re working (hustling) and more about the way you’re working (alignment). If we give in to distractions or procrastination, we make it harder for the universe to understand what we really want. How “hard” we work often has no bearing on our success, it’s how we work and what we give our attention to. When you align your energy and behaviours to support your dream, success is a guarantee. 

Like I said, every moment spent picking up a new project or brainstorming a new idea takes you away from the work that really needs your attention. When you’re juggling too many things, your energy is scattered, leaving only fragmented focus available to complete any given task. When you are not focused on your priorities (assuming you’ve identified what they are), the universe responds in kind. It’s like when you “kind of” studied for a test in school. When you truly commit to your dream, you’re showing the universe what you’re after, and the law of attraction will align with your behaviour to give you results.

Ask yourself: Where and how am I currently spending my energy? Am I targeted or scattered? Committed or inconsistent? Does this behaviour align with my desired outcome? If not, what do I want to start doing and what do I want to stop doing? 

Develop good habits

Starting something isn’t difficult, it’s seeing it through to the end that’s the real challenge. To do something well means devoting yourself to the task. Creating good habits means cultivating discipline that keeps you committed day in and day out. It means saying you’re going to do something, planning when you’re doing to do it and then showing up to do it. You can’t rely on motivation or inspiration to get things done – you can never predict when these will strike - so make sure you’re booking time to focus on your goals every day. Eventually, this discipline will evolve into a daily routine that becomes second nature.

Of course stopping to take care of yourself because you’re at risk of burning out is definitely okay and completely necessary. Also, there will always be unforeseen distractions in life so you’ll just need to roll with the punches when that happens. Think of it like a road trip: the number of pit stops taken only adds to the total length of your trip and if you don’t put gas in your vehicle, you won’t get very far. If you drive through the night, you might fall asleep at the wheel, and if you only drive in short spurts, it may take you forever to get here. Find the balance that works for you and stay committed to the journey.

Let go of the need to have it all now

Okay, this is where it gets really fun. Once you’ve defeated procrastination by getting clear on your priorities, aligned your actions to your goals and start showing up to do the work, the results will come. However, I encourage you to let go of all expectations related to when. The more pressure you put on yourself to get results, the more you are acting from a place of scarcity and distress. If you are concentrating on scarcity, you cannot attract abundance. Remember what I said about the law of attraction? You attract what you emit. The Universe is looking after you, but you need to trust her.

This isn’t to say deadlines aren’t important, but the fruition of your dreams always aligns with the Universe’s plan. Things truly have a way of working out precisely as they’re meant to, so I nudge you to release your need to control the outcome. Just keep showing up for yourself, and for your dream.

“My heart is at ease knowing that what was meant for me will never miss me, and that what misses me was never meant for me.” - Imam Al-Shafi'i

Sabrina Fraser