I love making New Year’s Resolutions. The truth is that I’m generally no better at keeping them than most Americans, but I still appreciate the opportunity to reflect on a year gone by and think about what I would like to do differently in the future. In the past, my resolutions have been fairly predictable: lose weight, exercise more, read more, watch less TV, etc. Some of those are on my list again this year, but I’ve added one more—a resolution that, if I can stick with it, will help me achieve all of my other goals, reduce my stress, and become a happier, calmer, more productive person.
I’m talking about single-tasking.
If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s exactly what it sounds like: doing one thing at a time. If the term seems very similar to mindful living, it is. It’s a relatively simple approach to life, but when you stop to consider (as I recently have) how often we multi-task throughout the day, it’s not so easy.
Here are some of the main ways I multi-task:
- Listening to the radio and/or talking to my kids while driving a car
- Checking my email while writing an article
- Managing tantrums/breaking up fights while cooking/cleaning/trying to do anything else
- Scrolling through Facebook or Twitter while playing with my kids (I do this MUCH less often since I deleted the apps from my iPhone.)
- Watching TV while folding laundry
- Reading, watching TV, writing, checking email, talking to my husband, planning my day, or doing almost anything else while eating
The benefits of single-tasking and the drawbacks of multi-tasking have been well documented at this point, and I’m not trying to add anything to my to-do list, so making the change should be easy, right? I’m not so sure about that. It’s no big surprise that we humans don’t always make the “right” or “healthy” choice, and besides, I feel like I’m getting a lot done when I multi-task (even though I’m not really). Also, as any parent will tell you, single-tasking often isn’t possible when you’re raising young children—unless, of course, you have a staff of nannies, chefs, and housekeepers to change that poopy diaper that always seems to appear at the least opportune time, or go get the baby who woke up from her nap just when you were finally getting work done on your latest project.
I have no illusion that I will be able to fully single-task my way through the day, nor do I want to. But I would like to focus on a few key areas:
1. Driving. When my kids are in the car, I will end up talking while driving. But when they’re not in the car, I’d like to experiment with driving in silence—no public radio, no music to distract me. (Obviously, no cell phone either.) Not only is this a safer way to drive, but in the past when I have done it, I have it to be significantly less stressful—especially when I utilize the traffic and tail-light meditations.
2. Eating. I work from home four days a week, so at least on those days, it should be possible for me to eat one meal mindfully each day, without doing anything else. Just sitting and eating. Research has found that distracted eating (especially in front of the TV!) is related to poorer nutritional choices and weight gain, and that mindful eating leads to just the opposite—healthier eating, weight loss, and increased enjoyment of your meal.
3. Playing with My Kids. The truth is that I’ve gotten much better at single-tasking with my kids recently, but it’s a process. I have noticed that we have significantly fewer tantrums and a lot more fun when I can devote my full attention to them. It’s not always possible, but I’d like to make it a priority for at least part of the day, everyday.
4. Meditation. Mindfulness meditation is the ultimate single-task—you are doing nothing but breathing. I recently found this 100 Day Challenge on Wildmind.org, and it inspired me to recommit to my meditation practice.
What do you think? Do you multi-task too much? Just enough? Are you willing to focus on just one thing at a time? What would that look like?
Most importantly, Happy New Year! May it be a healthy, happy, mindful year for all of us.
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Last reviewed: 1 Jan 2013