While in San Francisco this past week, I looked over to find my two year old niece, Juno, having a snack. Nothing abnormal by any means, but something struck me: she’s doing nothing but focusing on eating. Sitting still, at the table, tortilla chip in hand, rice milk in a glass. She wasn’t listening to music, she wasn’t reading a book, she was simply paying attention to each bite and each sip. So much so I overheard her say softly to herself, “I’m eating a chip.”
So then this got me thinking; when did we all let that stop being the way we live? When did it become okay, normalized even, to do twenty things at once? And not all that well – I might add. Watching TV while reading a book while also talking on the phone and answering that one text message… does this sound familiar? Instead of focusing on one single task, seeing it all the way through, and doing our very best at accomplishing that one thing – we fill our plates with a multitude of to-dos, and think that the more we push out in a quick amount of time, the more respect we’ll gain from our peers and the more productive we’re being as humans. The reality, though, is that we’re producing sub-par work, not giving the ones we love our full attention, and disrupting the human brain in the process.
Think about it: if I was sitting here writing this blog, but also editing photos, FaceTiming my sister and maybe checking my email for my photography company while also working on my taxes – would this blog post bring real value? Would it even make sense? Chances are, I’d have a slew of typos and a whole lot of irrelevance.
While I decided to give up multi tasking when I started this journey towards slow and mindful living, I still fall back into old patterns from time to time, and it’s certainly a work in progress – like most things in my life. But it’s something that’s always on the forefront of my mind. It’s not a way that I want to live out my days, and it’s certainly not how I want to act when it comes to my relationships. So lets dive in a bit further on how we can drop multitasking all together, learn how to single task, and live our best life in the process.
Multi Tasking Facts
There are some real hard facts out there when it comes to multitasking and how detrimental it can be to our personal lives and our work lives. I wish we would all take it a bit more seriously. It can add real, true value to our friendships and our loved ones if we use our time more appropriately by single tasking and simply taking our time, and if we started taking the initiative to plan out our days more responsibility (and realistically). Research shows that multitasking can also hurt your brain if you continue to take this path in your life, as attention spans are rapidly decreasing.
Dangers of Multitasking
Something to consider if you’re someone who’s on the fence about multitasking – it’s actually a pretty dark road to go down. Think of it this way: you’re doing 3 things at once, but one of them has a tight deadline. You accidentally send a project to the wrong receiver. Or you send an email that’s intended for someone else. Big mistake, and a lot of work on the back end. Not to mention your reputation could be on the line. Even though you may feel like you’re being ultra responsible by task switching and handling so many pieces of work at once, you’re actually giving yourself permission to be more careless.
The most intense and all too familiar example of the dangers of multitasking is when we decide it’s a good idea to check our cell phone and check our email while we’re driving. This is a hard no for me, and while I’ve been guilty for it here and there, for the most part, I pride myself on focusing solely on the action at hand: operating my vehicle and keeping those in it and around me safe. A few ways to avoid the temptation is to keep it in the back seat of your car, behind the driver seat, so you aren’t able to access it. Operate your bluetooth if you’re expecting a phone call, and if you need your maps. After all, that’s what it’s there for.
Multitasking and time management
Another argument to be made is that when you multi task, you’re saving time. The opposite is actually true. When you multitask and something falls through the cracks (as mentioned above), you have damage control to attend to that requires your immediate attention. Whether you’re having to re-do something entirely or simply communicate with others about what happened, it’s time that you’re taking away from your day. And time is incredibly valuable and scarce, my friends.
Time management is a tricky thing to master, and I feel fortunate that it’s one of my strong suits. I simply write down every single commitment that I have that day, prioritize, and make a note of how long I think each project will take me. From there, I set a timer for each project (even for my photo shoots. My sessions are one hour long, so to ensure I never go over and stay on track for my day, I keep a timer going). When the timer goes off, I give myself a 30 minute break to do whatever I’d like. Maybe I’ll grab a snack, go on a walk with Jasper, do some laundry, stretch or go work out. Then, I get back to it after the 30 minute break is up. Not only does perfecting time management give you so much of your day back, but it also makes it so that you don’t have to multi task. You’re only committing to what realistically fits into your schedule.
The benefits of focusing on one thing at a time
When you focus on single tasking and let go of the idea that you can do it all (and all at once!), not only do you free yourself of unrealistic expectations, but research shows that single tasking actually makes you smarter. Plus, your stress levels decrease and you release your nervous system of unnecessary panic. (um, yes please) When we give up the notion that checking our phones while watching TV isn’t harmful, or writing out client emails while taking a phone call is still considered paying attention, we become so productive with the amount of time that we put in to each day, that I guarantee you’ll be wondering why you didn’t start the act of single tasking years ago.
Single Tasker Tips
Set a timer for each task
As I mentioned above, I love setting my timer for 1 hour per task. If I finish before the hour is up, that’s added to my 30 minute break time. I do this whether it’s for work, or even if I’m just getting things done around the house. (laundry, cleaning, meal prepping)
Turn your phone to airplane mode
Especially when I’m writing for this blog, I set my phone to airplane mode, put it on the Do Not Disturb setting, or I leave it in another room. Nothing gets me out of the writing groove like a text or a call. I’ll even do this if I want to focus on a TV show.
Make a list
Having a list is a game changer, and is so helpful when it comes to prioritizing your tasks. Personally, I prioritize writing for this blog so that I have authentic content planned out for the week and editing my photo shoots for my clients so that they get their photos delivered quickly – since my reputation is centered around quality photos delivered within 2 days. So if these are things I need to get done, they’re always #1 and #2 on my list, no exceptions. I also (almost) always prioritize getting some exercise in.
Say “no” more
I say this all of the time, but it’s only because I truly believe that this is a must to live a well balanced life. If you’re someone who feels like you could never get up multi tasking for single tasking, look at your to do list/calendar. Are you overbooked? Most likely it feels unattainable because you’ve got way too much on your plate. Start saying “no” more to things that aren’t urgent or required of you (example for me: editing my client’s photos) and see how much more time you have to get the important things done, and done well.
When you eliminate distractions during your day, whether you’re working or having a meal, not only will it bring you more peace – but I think you’ll be blown away by how much more creative and open you feel. When we’re open, we’re more prone to good things coming our way.
Get a planner that has the hours listed
I never really liked the planners that had the hours listed out, but now that I’ve become really focused on single tasking, this helps so much. Having something tangible like a notebook where I can physically write and keep my phone in a different place is crucial, since it’s so easy to get caught up in “just one text message response” which then turns into a conversation, which then takes you out of your focus. Am I right or am I right? ;)
Here are a few more tips for single tasking.
I’ve said this before, but living a more mindful life is anything but easy. I wish it was – I wish you could close your eyes one night and open them the next, and wake up to a calm, simple life that flows from one moment to the next. But the truth of the matter is that it takes work. The good news, though, is that with simple methods and deciding that you deserve to live your best life, you begin to form habits, and in turn – you create a new lifestyle.
Here are some examples of simple methods:
- Becoming a better listener
- Up-ing your bedtime routine
- Decluttering your things
- Practicing gratitude every day
Eventually, you’ll begin to notice your breathing is a bit more steady, you’re less quick to react to situations, you have more patience and your sense of urgency will rapidly decrease, and your desire to “keep up with the Jonses” will pretty much vanish entirely. So like anything good in life, it takes some work. But in case you haven’t heard this in a while, allow me to do the honors by telling you this: you’re 100% worth the effort.
PS: 10 Things To Do If You Have An Anxious Personality. Also, you can grab a copy of my FREE Guide to Every Day Self Care by signing up for the TCC newsletter at the top of the sidebar. xx1