Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Joy of “Single" Tasking

We live in a world of multiple simultaneous demands for our attention – so much so, that the concept of “multi-tasking” was created in order to turn our constant state of distraction into the illusion of an asset. We’ve all been on both sides of the multi-tasking table, so to speak, as participant and recipient and neither side feels particularly satisfying. The impact of multi-tasking is that one is never fully present to anything or anyone – from the conversation where the other person is checking his/her email or surveying the room while you are talking, to the dinner party or business meeting where everyone at the table is checking their email, the internet or posting Facebook updates, to feeling like you are juggling more balls than you can handle in any one moment. Although multi-tasking provides the “illusion” of productivity, the cost in terms of stress level and professional/personal relationships is extremely high.

In the spirit of experimentation and moving outside of my comfort zone, I decided to take on the challenge of “single-tasking” for a week. I discovered that breaking my multi-tasking habit was a lot more challenging than I originally anticipated. Single-tasking required an extremely high level of self- and other-awareness, along with the ability to be fully present to whatever I was doing at any moment in time. It also required taking the skill of listening to the next level. Single-tasking meant that when I was reading, I was just reading; when I was talking on the phone, I was just on the phone and wasn’t scanning my email, loading the dishwasher, making coffee, reading reports or writing; when I was listening to music, I was just listening to music; when I was with someone, I was fully present to what he/she was saying and not going over a mental “to-do list.” Single-tasking also meant that I was aware when I wasn’t fully present in the moment and the potential impact of my distraction on others; it also meant consciously refocusing my complete attention to whatever was happening in the moment. 

What I discovered from my single-tasking experiment was amazing. Time seemed to slow down and my senses intensified. I noticed things that I was too distracted to notice before: the beauty of being fully present to whatever was occurring in a particular moment; the sounds and patterns of various types of music; the uniqueness and beauty of the person I was speaking to, whether in person or on the phone; the secrets that are revealed in the urban landscape; the joy that is present in doing seemingly insignificant household tasks; the speed that I was able to generate in completing my actual “to-do” list, and so much more. What about you? Are you willing to take on the challenge and gifts of single tasking and enjoying the experience of being fully present?


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