The Art of “Single-Tasking”

The Art of “Single-Tasking”

Last night I read this post and it stuck with me. I’ve been thinking about it all day . . . and it led to a conversation which prompted me to make a decision. A really big decision for me.
I always talk about wanting to simplify. I run around like a crazy woman, trying to accomplish one thing after another, telling myself that once I get this task finished (the laundry) I can focus on that much more important thing (reading to my kids). I never focus on what I’m doing and if I sit down I’m still thinking about what I need to do later and how I can accomplish it most efficiently. I don’t want to be a task-oriented person. 
So today someone was talking to me about stress and the toll it takes on your health. I know this–and yet I don’t think I realized a key factor that keeps me stressed. I thought it was actually helping alleviate my stress because I could accomplish two things at once, but in the course of this conversation I had a brilliant revelation. Multi-tasking is stressful.
“So,” I said. “Is it bad to watch t.v. while I fold the laundry?”
In a word, yes.
“And what if I talk on the phone while I do the dishes?”
Well, why not focus on the dishes, the way the water and soap come together. How it feels through my rubber gloves and what it looks like as it washes the grime away. And then later, sit down with a cup of coffee and call a friend to talk.
This is a new concept. I always multi-task. Really. I never just fold the laundry. Ever. I think by mistake I’ve been making my life more complicated.
But-but-but if I do this, by the time I get to evening, I will just have so much left to do!
“And the way you’ve been doing things,” my friend countered. “Everything is done by evening? There’s nothing left to do?”
Well . . . no. So, it’s not working for me this way. I might as well try something new. When I was a homeschooled highschooler we learned a concept, only I’ve never really learned it. It just stuck in my head. I don’t even know who said it.
“Wherever you are, be all there.”
I always wanted that. I wanted to pay attention to the person talking to me, instead of getting distracted and thinking about something I had to do. (That doesn’t happen all the time by the way, just once in a while, so don’t get paranoid.) I wanted to be involved in the thing I was doing, not flying off in a million directions at once. But the way I’ve been going, I’m working myself up into a more frenetic pace day after day. When will it be fast enough?
It’s way too fast now. So I’m going to do this. Right now, I’m writing a blog post. The kitchen is dirty and dishes need to be washed. Todd will be home from the gym any second. But I’m writing and that’s what I’m focused on. In a minute, I will do the dishes. Now, does that mean I can’t listen to Todd tell me about his day while I’m doing the dishes? I don’t think so. But, it might be a good idea to sit down together for a few minutes before we fall exhausted into bed.
“To the degree that you do this,” I was told today. “You will add years to your life.”
Focusing on one thing at a time is going to be hard. I am actually bored if I don’t have two things going on at once. But that should not be! I think folding the laundry ought to be an enjoyable job in and of itself. And perhaps it will be again, after I learn to slow down a little bit. It will be interesting to find out.
Anyone want to join me in learning the art of single-tasking?

  • Léna Roy
    Posted at 08:03h, 26 January Reply

    Love this! My need for reminders to practice mindfulness is constant. So thank you. And I LOVE calling it single-tasking! Brilliant.

  • Beth
    Posted at 08:03h, 26 January Reply

    ME ME ME!!!!! I need to do this. I find that if I am eating alone I *have* to have something to read. Or, when I read to the kids I have no idea what the book was about when I am done. My mind is off in a million different directions when I am reading to them even though I am not just reading monotonously I don't internalize it because my mind is thinking about what I should be doing or what needs to be done next. This is perhaps a really good thing for me to focus on during Lent. But for sure I need to start practicing now! Super great post Alison! Good luck on your adventure in single tasking 🙂

  • Alison
    Posted at 08:07h, 26 January Reply

    Thanks, Beth. So glad this struck a chord for you! It was like a light turning on for me, too.

    Lena, don't we all need those reminders? I wish I could take credit for calling it single-tasking, but it wasn't my idea, I just thought it was brilliant, too.

  • Sarah
    Posted at 10:01h, 26 January Reply

    Ahhh such good stuff! I have actually been trying to practice this more of late. The only thing I truly intentionally multi-task on (I think) is that I fold laundry during "quiet time", and that's when I make my phone calls. Laundry is a mindless enough task that I can enjoy catching up with family (or just get the necessary calls made for the day) while the kids are quiet for a short time. 🙂 I know that I unintentionally multi-task wayyy tooo much (thanks for nothing iPhone! ;)) and yesterday, when I sat and JUST played Play-Doh with my kids, it was really fun! Thanks for this. 🙂

  • Alison
    Posted at 10:34h, 26 January Reply

    Thanks for the comment, Sarah. I felt the same way about laundry, that it's mindless anyway so what's the harm. But just for myself I'm going to try not multi-tasking at all for a while. It's gotten to the point that it's out of control. I don't know how I'm doing so far–it seems like a lot of it is automatic. And there are some times you HAVE to multi-task, like when you're making dinner. I mean, if you wait for the chicken to saute before you make the salad, come on! But I think any little steps I take will make a world of difference in my mindset. And BTW, I have been resisting getting an iPhone for this very reason. 🙂

  • Rebekah
    Posted at 16:36h, 26 January Reply

    Love this post! I need to work on this one for sure! Thanks for sharing! What a good reminder that was for me!

  • Alison
    Posted at 16:37h, 26 January Reply

    Thanks, Rebekah! Glad you enjoyed it. Now I'm laughing at myself. In my first comment above, I used not one but TWO cliches within the first two sentences! Oy!

  • Peg
    Posted at 22:06h, 26 January Reply

    Love, love, love it! I've been thinking a lot about being truly present lately. Of living in the moment, because I am often out in the future. As a mom, I feel that if I always have to stay one step ahead – anticipate the need for a snack, have lunch on the table at 12 on the dot, make sure the girls clothes are clean to pack for a trip to grandma's. But yes, I often feel more stressed as I'm trying to do too many things at once. I'll join you on this journey!

  • Alison
    Posted at 22:14h, 26 January Reply

    Yay, Peg! Welcome to the club!

  • Susan
    Posted at 18:25h, 10 February Reply

    hi, here i am multitasking!!! hence no capitals and one hand typing. i'm sure it wasn't mine originally, but the quote wherever you are, be all there" was once posted in our humble schoolroom. I actually think it may have come from ATI. (Yes, I'm all here now!) I've resurrected it lately and really need your reminders. Peace (not with God, but outward/inward peacefulness) is hard to come by these days. You "are" a great writer. No need to post this. Love, Mom

  • Alison
    Posted at 18:29h, 10 February Reply

    Thanks, Mom. xo

Post A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.