One Thing at a Time: How to End the Negative Cycle of Multitasking
Tackling one task or activity at a time has become a rare practice in a world that seems to place greater value on multitasking, much to the detriment of exhausted people everywhere.
Most of us are hustling from the moment our feet touch the floor in the morning until we drop onto the sofa or into our bed at night. The busyness of today’s world has us in meetings, chasing deadlines, and juggling multiple projects all day, every day. The to-do lists are only getting longer. We’re constantly on call and on the go. It’s a pervasive problem with no end in sight; people seem to constantly bring up how swamped they are.
A New Kind of Competition
Busyness has become a competition of sorts, with people jockeying for status on who works the longest hours, has the highest number of unopened emails, or the most demanding project deadlines.
Multitasking might seem like a worthwhile skill set to develop. Maybe you’ve experienced the high that follows a day of successful juggling. That feeling is only temporary. Multitasking produces an aggressive motivation to accomplish more so that we feel better about ourselves. There seems to be an underlying belief that if we get more done in less time, it means we’re smarter, more competent, and more successful.
The problem with this approach is that, while we may get more done, the quality of our presence is diminished. Over time, the quality of our work wanes and our lives suffer.
“Multitasking is one of the things we become worse at, the more we practice it,” Deepak Chopra has said.
Life isn’t going to slow down. The only way to regain some balance is to recognize when we’re spiraling out of control and make a conscious effort to slow life down. To achieve this seemingly impossible feat you must be aware and take responsibility to make the right changes.
If you aren’t aware that you’re spiraling out of control, you won’t be able to interrupt that pattern. Once you’ve become aware, you have a responsibility to make changes to your lifestyle. If you don’t take responsibility for the choices that you’re making each day, the exhaustion that accompanies an over-saturated and frenzied lifestyle will eventually take it’s toll on your physical health, relationships, and mental and emotional well-being.
5 Steps to Taking Back Control
When you feel stress creeping in from constant multitasking, follow this practice to help you become more present.
1. If you usually do more than one task at a time, ask yourself why you do that? Take a moment to ask the question. It’s the first step to understanding why you feel pressured to accomplish so many tasks in such as short period of time.
2. Next, start multitasking. Pick any task, such as sending an email or text message while folding laundry, and putting away groceries. Cook dinner and watch television at the same time. If you’re at work, file paperwork, and send emails while you’re on a business call. Then, take a few minutes to journal about how you feel and how you performed your tasks.
3. Do the same tasks again, only this time concentrate on one task at a time, and bring it all the way through to completion. Cook mindfully and enjoy your meal at the table without any distraction. Give your full attention to your business call, including the agenda and the people on the other end. Again, write down how you feel and how you performed your tasks.
4. Later, sit on a cushion or chair and recall how you felt while multitasking. Try to recreate mentally and emotionally how you felt as you frantically tried to do multiple tasks at once. Stay connected with your feelings for a few minutes. Then recall how you felt when you devoted your total attention to a single task and completed it; stay with this feeling for a few minutes.
5. If you felt better focusing on one task at a time, continue to approach every job, project, and chore in this way. Being present in each moment will also help prevent mistakes and accidents, and provides a more relaxed, measured approach to life.
Once you’ve done this exercise, take a good look at everything you have going on in your life and prioritize what is most important. Make a list of your daily responsibilities, tasks, and deadlines and design a practice that allows you to focus on one task at a time.
When you begin a new task, practice being fully present. You may notice that, over time, your work will be more precise, you will perform with more vitality, and you will feel more relaxed, centered, and balanced in your life.