Burnout – Could Multi-tasking be the Problem?

messed up paper clips to signify burnout

But . . . I am a pro at being focused . . . I thought!

I have been in business for years.  I am organized and focused.  Those are my strengths.  My Strengths!  Right?  So, how can I possibly feel I am starting to have burnout?

So, as I begin to figure out the problem, I start with the good:  I hit deadlines and I get things done. Isn’t that great?  But wait … didn’t I just say the other night: “It’s 8:00 pm and this is taking me too long … I am burned out”?

Then I looked at my husband. Was he trying to be funny?  I told him I am working “slower” tonight and he just looked at me, laughed, and said “Yep”.  He’s been telling me (for quite a while) to stop working so much … or at least take more breaks.  I can’t possibly tell him he’s right.  🙂

Multi-tasking: That’s just when you talk or text ?

My first thought: I don’t multi-task.  I don’t talk on the phone or text when I am in meetings.  I am focused.  I am even against multi-tasking.  Very much so.  One reason: my kids.

Have you had this happen?

I have two kids and they both just finished the teenage years.  One thing that drives me crazy:  the excessive, if not obsessive, use of the phone by teenagers.  I was one of those parents that said “stop… Stop … just STOP”.  I even took the phones away.  But, the problem now: they are in college and it’s a little more difficult — although not impossible if I really work at it.

Here’s a typical scenario:  One of them has a great story.  They talk. I listen. I am engaged and ask questions. They answer.  Story over.  Then … I have an interesting story.  They act confused when I tell them I have an interesting story to tell (because I am not sure they believe a Mom can have an interesting story).  But they listen.

Well, they listen for 30 seconds and the comment comes: “Oh, wait.  Just a second. It’ll only be a second”.  Or worse, they don’t even say that; they say nothing.  And in a blink of an eye, they look down at their phone and their fingers start moving at lightning speed. I am left to wonder if they are texting, playing a game, snap chatting (or is it just called snapping?), or posting on Instagram.  Whatever they are doing, I only know that I have just been ignored and I am amazed at how fast fingers can move so quickly typing on a phone.

It is Tune-out!

Did they just tune me out? They did! They think they can multi-task, but I realize that they haven’t heard 50% (or maybe 80%) of what I just said.

So, now I have two reasons to not liking multi-tasking:

  • I personally want to be focused and engaged.  I also want to be efficient when I work.
  • I don’t like it when others multi-task and ignore me.

Which Brings us to the problem: Burnout Confusion

I started my business around 4 years ago, but I have worked for a CPA firm, a corporation, and larger small businesses. What’s the problem?  I do think having my own business is harder in some ways, but corporate also had it’s share of problems.

So, why the burnout? Sure, one client recently messed up many things in their accounting records, but I’ve seen mess-ups before. Actually, I’ve seen bigger problems many times before.  So, why the stress? Why did I sigh in frustration: “I think my brain is going to pop out today”?

Then the moment came.  I sat down with a client who is also a friend.  We talked about goals for 2020.   I thought through my burnout story, but now I had some distance and perspective. I then realized: my burnout came from multi-tasking.  I couldn’t believe it!

Multi-tasking = Burnout

If I am against multi-tasking, how could I have been multi-tasking?  Here’s my goal: When I am with a client, I don’t text; I don’t take phone calls; I don’t, with two seconds notice, stop talking and start “working” on my phone.

When I am doing the actual client work, I think about the client; I read notes of prior meetings; I document things to talk to them about.  I am focused on them.

Oh … but wait …

One Burnout day

I remember one particularly stressful day.  I had to review a client’s bank account.  The bank website was slow, so I checked my phone.  I saw another client’s message; they had a question so I called them back (planning for a quick phone call). But, the phone call ended up taking an unplanned 30 minutes.

But wait again …

The day continued and I had to check several more bank accounts and a credit card account. As I downloaded information, did I really go check my email instead of just sitting there?  I now remember: another client had emailed with many questions. I was only going to briefly read the email but ended up researching a couple issues “quickly” and emailing them back.

A realization

Oh my! I was working on three clients at the same time, reviewing my phone, and scanning my emails.  I had become a multi-tasker.

I had started multi-tasking without even realizing it!  It started as “quick email checks” — thinking that would be an efficient use of my time. But as that day progressed (as did many other days), my clients got results quickly (and some even quicker than needed), but I was continually taking one more step to burnout.

New Year’s Goal

What to do now?

Here’s the plan.  One, I am going to be grateful for having a meeting with my friend and setting goals for the new year.  Getting out of the office to a coffee location helped me put things in perspective.  I am going to continue to have those meetings throughout the year.

Two, I am changing the way I run my business.  I’ve heard it before — I think we all have — but this time I “get it”.  I will schedule specific times to check my phone and emails.  I still want to provide great customer service for my clients, but I am going to ask more questions about urgency instead of “turning on a dime” so frequently.


I now believe Dr. Kubu, Neurological Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, who wrote in an article in Time magazine: “repeatedly switching back and forth from project to project, like a hummingbird darting from flower to flower and then back to the original flower, can impair our ability to function at our finest”.   Somehow that vision of just fluttering around seems to explain a lot.

Goodbye Multi-tasking.  I thought you were helpful, but you caused way too much burnout.

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