You might think being a multitasker is a good thing, but often we benefit from focusing on only one task at a time
As long as I can remember, I’ve prided myself on my ability to multi-task. There is not much I can’t combine into one task if called to the challenge. For instance, I’m able to get my dinner to a simmer, then run up the stairs to transfer the clothes from the washer to the dryer, all while pronouncing words for my six-year-old who yells out the letters from the other room.
I thought this skill helped me accomplish so much over the years, but lately I find myself becoming easily distracted and constantly frazzled by so much stimulation. My kids complain that I’m not paying attention to them, mostly because they want my full attention, but I digress. There is little time to be still because I’m constantly thinking about all the chores that need to be done (together, of course) or where I should be in the next moment.
While researching Japanese culture and the benefits of minimalism, I stumbled upon a term that captured my attention: Single Tasking.
Although that was the first time I heard of it, ‘single tasking’ is a real thing that is taking root as more people search for ways to reduce stress and increase productivity in their lives.
It seems like a no-brainer, but it actually takes a lot of focus to be mindful of the task at hand a — similar to how meditation requires you to give 100% attention to whatever you’re doing.
Think about it. You’re able to use all your five senses at once, deepening your experience. This alone is worth it. Who doesn’t want more meaningful experiences? You may not get as much stuff done, but you will, however, derive more joy out of doing it.
I was blown away by my discovery. I really did believe that multi-tasking was my superpower. I mean, there were so many benefits, I never thought this juggling would ever hinder me. Fast forward a decade and a half later and I will tell you that not one of the handful of tasks I ever did at once got the attention it deserved.
If I am being completely honest, my kids probably suffered the most. I can’t imagine what went through their little heads…
They’d watch their mommy run from one room to the next, decked in an apron carrying a pile of half-folded clothes in one arm and misplaced stuffed animals in another, all while the fire alarm was going off because the potatoes were burning. I imagine all this motion caused a lot of anxiety for them, not to mention the expectations I put on them. If I can accomplish all this in an hour (never mind the sweat dripping down my back), then they should too, I always thought.
When I was a proud multitasker, I would get especially frustrated with my daughter. She has never been one to pick up the pace; she prefers snail speed for just about everything. It is not unusual for the entire family to be waiting in the car for what feels like a century until my daughter decides to slowly exit the house and join us. She has no remorse either. The more we push, the more her pace slows to a near halt. She gets easily anxious, so this seemed like her way of overcompensating for it. And I don’t blame her… now. I’m really sorry for the last 14 years, however. I had no idea.
Knowledge is power. Now that I know multi-tasking is stressful — as much for the spectators as it is for the participants — I know I don’t want any part in it.
And I’m sure my family agrees.
They like the slow, intentional mom who looks them in the eye as they talk and drops everything to capture them in her arms with a bear hug when they return from school. They also appreciate the fact that I’m more grounded, less prone to mood swings or panic attacks. All this by just focusing on one thing at a time. Who would have known?
As a single tasker, I even found myself enjoying food more because I’m not watching tv or browsing the internet as I eat. Instead, I use all my senses, seeing how good it looks, how nice it smells, how it feels as I chew it slowly. I’m sure there are health benefits to this approach as well. Another research topic perhaps. For now, I’m just grateful I caught myself before turning to medication to ease the stress. There’s nothing better than finding the root cause of an issue and attacking it at its core.
Here are a few methods I have learned to stay in a single-task mode:
- Mindfulness — If you are aware of what you’re doing, and you vow to not do too much at once, then you will not get caught in the trap. I find that if I am totally devoted to the moment, completely mindful, then I won’t want to add any other experience to it.
- Prioritize — If there is a lot to get done, make a priority list. If you can’t get it all accomplished, focus on getting done the most important things on your list.
- Economize — We may all be guilty of doing, wanting, and having too much, so just take one or two things off your list to do or acquire. You may need to learn to say “no” but, believe me, the more you say it, the easier it gets.
- Delegate — There’s nothing wrong with asking for help. Or demanding it. In fact, people will even respect you for it. Free yourself by giving yourself permission to do whatever it takes to stay focused on only one task at a time.
Change will not happen overnight. Not in this crazy, busy world we live in. However, life is a journey and our goal should always be to better ourselves along the way. Single tasking is one sure step forward on that path.
You may also enjoy reading The Sacred Pause: The Art of Activating Healing Energy by Travis Eliot