To appreciate the art of mono-tasking (doing one thing at a time) we first need to look at multi-tasking (doing several things at a time). It’s now December when the temptation to do too much is high, so let’s take an honest look at this and give ourselves a holiday break. We live in a culture that wants us to juggle eight things at once and get everything done yesterday. The message is that multitasking is the way to get there.
In our device-laden world, we are encouraged to believe we can successfully navigate numerous tasks in a short period of time. Praise is offered to those who are the busiest. Feeling extremely productive can be so alluring that we buy into the myth of multi-tasking, and then experience its unintended consequences.
There is scientific evidence supporting the alarming consequences of multi-tasking. Our brains are not wired to rapidly switch from one task to another, so there is a cognitive cost. A recent study found the following: Among people multi-tasking, there was a reduction in the brain’s ability to regulate control over both motivation and emotion. Our short-term and long-term memory is reduced, and we become easily distracted. Distractions cause us to misjudge traffic, experience more falls, perform lower in tasks, and have trouble making decisions. Indeed, rapidly switching tasks made people less productive and less efficient. This reveals the true results of multi-tasking. Being busy is not the same as being productive.
Our relentless juggling act increases stress, depression, and social anxiety. Between COVID, life’s regular activities, and December’s extra activities, we’re at risk of doing too much and harming our valued relationships. Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone who kept checking their phone and couldn’t give you eye contact? This is what researchers are talking about when they say that lack of attention lowers relationship satisfaction. Now you can see why I said research results are alarming.
Because our relationships are the deeper meaning of the holidays, let’s reclaim the art of doing one thing at a time. Let’s reclaim the pleasure of being mindful and noticing the details of what we are doing. Let’s reclaim the deep satisfaction of paying attention to our relationships with focused, nurturing behaviors. When we concentrate on one task instead of several, we can give that one item our complete attention and our best effort. This often leads to greater enjoyment of what we’re doing.
Making a list of what’s most important to us this December will help us create a meaningful holiday. We can set times when we’re digital free so we nurture ourselves, and then we can set times for getting together, COVID-style, through Zoom or Facetime. Done without interruption, both enhance our health and relationships. As Steve Jobs says, “Be like a postage stamp. Stick to one thing until you get there.”
When we are strategic with our time, we get everything done that truly needs to be done without the constant stress to do more. All daily chores and errands become elevated and enjoyed when done thoughtfully. Mono-tasking offers us life’s simple pleasures so we hear the different sections of the orchestra, smell the aroma from what’s baking in the oven, feel the crispness of the clean sheets, or taste the robust flavor of a favorite drink.
Mono-tasking gives us the opportunity to notice when a neighbor looks distressed and needs a kind message. We’re aware of the sparkle in a child’s eyes when the Christmas tree is lit. We notice the sweetness of an elderly couple holding hands; slowed by their years, but still walking the beach. These are precious moments so easily missed.
This December I’m suggesting we exchange multi-tasking for mono-tasking. This means we exchange scattered minds for mindfulness, and rushing for thoughtful choices. Let’s leave behind the temptation to know everything at once and the fear that we’ll miss out on something to embrace the art of doing one thing at a time. Gloria Rowland offers this advice: “Having at least one lazy day a week can reduce stress, high blood pressure, and the risk of having a stroke.” If that’s all it takes, I’m in!
Let’s make our holiday celebrations focused on the people we love, even though we need to keep our distance. This is an opportunity to carefully choose priorities, respect our tired brains, and meaningfully do less. Storm Jameson writes, “The only way to live is to accept each minute as an unrepeatable miracle, which is exactly what it is: a miracle and unrepeatable.” Welcome to the art of mono-tasking.
Until Next Time – Sylvia