Thursday, July 30, 2009


Image via Owlnet

Like many people I know, I have a tendency to try and accomplish eight things at any one given time. Frequently I will be packing my lunch, brushing my teeth, and trying to compose a grocery list simultaneously - only to later wonder where my soup spoon ran off to (left on top of the fridge), why there is something stuck between my molars (oops, forgot to floss), and how come the pantry is empty (mental grocery lists never seem to materialize in full in my shopping bags). Perhaps it is having to eat soup with a fork, my fear of cavities, or the unsatisfying nature of roasted vegetables paired with a granola bar and edamame, but I have hit my breaking point. Every Monday and Wednesday morning I am reminded by my yoga teacher, Natasha, in her soothing accent of unknown origin, to move my arms "mindfully", to "let the excess go", and to "focus my whole being" on a pose. I'm starting to think she has a point.

See, after a few days of monitoring my own multitasking habits it became evident that I was not really saving time at all - I was just displacing it. Sure, I may have saved a minute or two when I sent an email in class, but the time I spent getting caught up on the course material I missed and composing the subsequent email I had to send when I realized my first message did not really make sense... well... it ended up taking longer than had I done both tasks "mindfully" to begin with.

In addition to saving time, I also thought that my multitasking was helping me get the most out of each minute in the day - a neat trait that ensured I experienced life to the fullest and would not miss out on anything. Well. it turns out that is not the case either. You see, inherent in multi-tasking is that nothing is experienced fully. Certainly I was not experiencing the book I read fully while I simultaneously listened to music and intermittently sent text messages, nor was I getting the most out of my workout as I slowed my jogging pace on the treadmill to read a magazine. In either scenario I would have gotten a much fuller and satisfactory experience if I has "let the excess activities go".

The most profound realization for me, however, was recognizing that a multitasking person is not a fun person. In fact - a multitasking person is generally an annoying person. Think about the last time you had lunch with someone who was constantly sending messages from their Blackberry or texting someone else while you tried to carry a conversation. Majorly annoying, right? What about the lady driving to work while eating a McMuffin, applying mascara, and talking on the phone? Also majorly annoying and dangerously oblivious. And then there's the coworker that is always so preoccupied you end up having the same conversation day after day because they are never really listening to you. Annoying to the nth degree.

Photo via MSNBC

Well I am embarrassed to admit I have recently become that person. I have been called out on my annoying behavior by my boyfriend while talking to him on speakerphone and washing my face, brushing my teeth, checking my email... the list goes on. It has finally hit home that if I am not giving someone else my whole attention I am wasting their time and missing out on developing a deeper relationship. Plus, I am majorly annoying - not a description I strive for. You see, if we are not "focusing our whole being" on the person or people we are with, we risk missing out on truly connecting with others - one of life's greatest gifts. We also risk being an annoying person no one wants to hang out with.

Photo via Ron Martin

Given my recent multitasking myth-busting, I decided to turn over a new leaf and embrace monotasking. Maybe it seems a little boring and lackluster amid a world of bluetooth technology in an endless sea of gadgets that encourage us to do more in any one moment in time, but it feels surprisingly refreshing to focus on just one thing at a time. There are many benefits to monotasking I have noticed, most notable of which is an increased satisfaction with each thing I do. Consciously completing a task effectively and knowing it has been done with care is oddly fulfilling - sort of like when you are young and tying your shoes was a triumph worthy of acknowledgment. Plus, I know I won't be annoying my boyfriend, or any friend for that matter, with my lack of participation in our conversations.

Looking to add a little monotasking to your life? Start with these mono-tips and you'll be on your way to more focused, mindful living in no time:
  • When it's time to eat, just eat. Don't watch television or work at your computer while you munch. Not only is eating mindlessly bad for your waistline, but you are depriving yourself of fully experiencing the joy of your food when distracted by the TV. Remember, multitasking doesn't save you time in the long run - you can take 30 minutes to enjoy your meal and be a more productive worker when you return to your desk.
  • When you're talking to someone, listen. This may seem like a no-brainer, but how often are we truly listening to someone when they speak to us? Even if we are not actively doing something else physically, we are often predicting what the speaker will say next, pondering our own personal issues, or trying to find a place to interject our own thoughts. Spend a day trying to fully engage in conversations with others, with an emphasis on listening - you might be surprised by what you hear!
  • Talk yourself through it, one task at a time. Lately, when I start doing one task and then find my mind or my body trying to do something else too, I will say (either in my head or aloud), "It's not time for X right now, I'm doing Y". This may seem silly, but it is a very effective way to stay on task and strengthen your resolve to complete one task before starting the next. A quick reminder is often all it takes to finish what you started with full attention.

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