Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Moving forward by going slower

I'm a multitasker by nature, I tend to try to do a half a dozen things all at once.  Sometimes I really struggle to focus on just one thing.  But most of the time, it's my desire to do it all, to have it all, my interesting in so many diverse things, that drives me to try to do everything at once.

There is a quote that says something like:  You can't do two things at once as good as you could do each of them separately.  And I think there is a certain validity to this.  Of course, if you can focus your entire attention on something it would benefit from your undivided attention.

Sometimes, we have no choice.  We may have a limited amount of time, or three things may need to be done all at once (you might need to cook dinner, wash dishes and finish putting away the laundry) and if you try to do them one at a time, something doesn't get done.  Typically, however, these are things that don't actually require our full attention.  If I'm not fully engaged in folding the towels, my life isn't going to suffer much from it (now cooking dinner might be a bit more vital!)

Ultimately, it's a sacrifice of quality for quantity.  You accept that you don't need to perform a task at 100%, that perhaps 90% is good enough, and so you manage to do something else at the same time (which also won't be done to it's full potential).

But, other times, we just try to do a bunch of things all at once because we are in the habit of it, because we don't feel like we can slow down, or because we want to have it all...and haven't recognized that we aren't really enjoying any of it because we are splitting our focus.

My own lack of attention is most obvious when I try to listen to  something and do something else at the same time.  Listening for content that is:  listening to a lecture or talking to someone on the phone.  If I am doing something that involves listening and trying to retain memory of what was said, and I do just about anything else at all (even coloring...), I'll realize that I haven't heard a single word that was said.

My son just moved into the dorms, and so I'm now at home, alone, for a good chunk of the week.  And, I don't really have any hard and fast schedules, other than to have dinner ready when hubby gets off work in the evening.  So, I have a lot of leeway in how and when I do things.

What I've been finding is that being able to sit and finish a task, from beginning to end, without interruptions, is really nice!  There is a serenity to knowing that there is absolutely nothing else that needs doing except for the thing I'm focused on. 

I'm also finding that I often end up getting more done by the end of the day.  For me, the real struggle is breaking away from busy tasks at the computer.  Things that I know are wastes of time, or that don't need to be done:  checking my email multiple times during the day, scrolling through Facebook, having multiple tabs/files open on my computer and trying to work on them all at once (I've done this before...had different stories that I was trying to write, at the same was crazy!)

It's easy to dismiss these kinds of things.  After all, if you don't have any new emails, it only takes a few seconds to look, doesn't it?  And scrolling Facebook is like a break, and breaks are good for productivity aren't they?  But, the danger is that they suck you in, and before you know it, you haven't just checked your email once, you've checked it twenty times in the past hour.  And you didn't take a short break and then return to your task, you've been scrolling Facebook for hours!

And then, trying to swap back and forth between tasks creates this sense of tension.  Every time you swap, it's like your brain has to check in with ALL the things you are doing, to make sure that each one is coming along.  This creates a lot of anxiety for me.  I actually like to track my goals for the day, in my planner, with a checklist, because it lets me avoid this need to double-check and make sure I'm getting everything done.  I can just flip to today in my planner, check off anything new that I've finished, and see what is left to be done...and then pick one thing to focus on and not worry about the rest until that one thing is done.

I also find that I'm less likely to get distracted (by things I'm not even doing!) if I'm focusing on just one thing.  If I'm trying to juggle three or four tasks at once, it's very easy to think, "Oh, what's one more to add in?"  But, if I'm tuned in, then it's much easier to remind myself that I need to finish what I've started, and then I can do something else.

One sort of strange observation too is that, when I slow down, and really focus on what I'm doing, the task becomes more fulfilling and less tedious.  I'm not a lover of cleaning, but when I clean, I am now trying to stop thinking about "how quickly can I get this done, ugh I hate cleaning," but instead, taking it like a form of active meditation.  I'm letting myself feel the motions.  I'm thinking about creating a clean and tidy space (which is soothing to me), about refreshing a room, and not about the fact that I'm vacuuming (the thing I dislike most!)

At the end of the day, I find I'm much more content, even if I didn't technically 'do' as many things...if I actually enjoyed the things that I did do.  Rushing through things just to do them just feels like I'm going through the motions.  It's like I'm doing things just to show other people I did them, and not because I actually wanted to do them.  Even the things that I don't necessarily like doing (like cleaning), I appreciate the results of.  A clean house always feels better, so while I may not like the process of cleaning, I still want to do it because I want the house to be clean.

So, if you find yourself constantly stressed and wound up tight because you are trying to juggle everything all at once, try slowing down.  Find one thing, even a small one, that you can do while doing nothing else.  Take a moment or two longer, and really sink into it, don't rush!  Let yourself appreciate the time spent, the actions you are taking, the results you are creating. 

When you do have to do multiple things, see what absolutely has to be done at the same time, and exclude everything else.  If you must do a few things at once, adding more to your plate will make things worse, not easier! 

And don't forget to apply these things to the stuff you really WANT to do too.  If you have a new book you want to read, then carve yourself some time to settle into your favorite place to read, with a lovely drink and just read.  Don't only read while you have food in the oven, or in a waiting room..because your reading will be interrupted and won't feel as indulgent.  And you deserve to indulge yourself!

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