Single-Tasking

This weekend I’ll ride the Deutsche Bahn to the Baltic Sea, a beautiful and tranquil place where I will be disconnected from my good friend Internet and the noise and crowds of the city for one week.

I don’t know about you, but I am a compulsive multi-tasker. If something can be done at the same time as something else, damn if I am not doing both. Or all three. Sometimes it’s great, like when I listen to This American Life while cooking. But many argue that there is actually no such thing as multi-tasking, that we are incapable of performing multiple tasks at the exact same time while giving full attention to them all–that what we are doing when we think we’re multi-tasking is just making our attention flit back and forth really quickly from one thing to the next, which muddles our focus and consequently detracts from efficiency. Take, for example, this combination that I have attempted before: watching TV while eating while working while checking email while checking Facebook while chatting with the person on the couch with me. Am I giving any of these things my full attention? I’d love to be able to say yes, but come on.

So next week’s Baltic Sea adventure, without the distraction of Internet to tempt me, will present the perfect opportunity to practice something called single-tasking. I’ve always gotten the best results when giving my complete attention to one project or experience. I’d like to better learn the habit of pouring all my focus into one activity at a time. Of savoring. Of meditating. Of doing less. Of being mindful and present. Like this lady:

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When I eat, I want to really taste and feel the food, relish the flavors, and concentrate on chewing, an essential part of effective digestion. When I drink tea, I’ll savor the tea and create a space for it in my heart.

When I’m with people, I want to give them my undivided attention. I will listen well. I will be conscious of the connection between us. I will enjoy and appreciate who they are.

When I read, I will project myself into the story, I will feel what the characters feel, I will live in that created world without playing music or indulging in frequent distractions like getting a snack or checking the computer or playing some music or examining the freckles on my arm or the ends of my hair.

When I take a walk, I will not bring my iPod along. I’ll listen to my footsteps and the birds and the whispers of the sea and wind. I’ll observe carefully the beauty around me.

When I play an album, I will close my eyes and listen to the whole thing through. I will let myself feel the layers of instruments and try to understand what the musicians are saying through each song.

Single-tasking seems like a good way to experience ultimate enjoyment of activities, whatever they may be. When you pour yourself into a task, give it all your focus and attention, create space for it, breathe, and use it as a form of meditation, even something like washing the dishes or flossing your teeth can be enjoyable. This is my only goal for next week. I have a feeling it will be more difficult than it seems. I may need to take a marker and write a note-to-self on my hand, something like “Savor.”  We’ll see how it goes!

I encourage you to do this, too. Are you a compulsive multi-tasker (or multi-tasker wannabe) like me? Choose one of your daily activities, maybe something that you normally rush through or that seems dull, and savor it. Or maybe you already practice the art of single-tasking. What are some of your strategies for savoring and being present in each activity?

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