“In today’s busy world, it’s often hard to find time to devote our attention to a single task,” writes journalist Sjoukje van de Kolk in the gorgeous book A Book That Takes Its Time: An Unhurried Adventure in Creative Mindfulness, which is filled with creative ideas, postcards, mini journals, stickers, decorative papers and more. “We want to do everything, and sometimes it’s so paralyzing that we end up doing nothing.”
Can you relate?
Too many of us can. For too many of us that’s what our days look and feel like: rushed, overwhelming, pressure filled. When we work on several (or six thousand) things at once, we can feel all over the place. We become distracted. It takes us longer to complete each task, so we’re less productive anyway.
Van de Kolk encourages readers to do one task at a time. She suggests adopting resolutions like the below. Some of these might work for your lifestyle, and some might not. Either way, I hope these examples inspire you to reflect on what changes you can make to take better care of yourself. Because that’s really what single tasking speaks to.
- I will turn off the sound on my email.
- I will work from a cafe so I don’t start doing laundry during the day.
- While I cook, I will not make calls or have a conversation.
- I will not check email on my phone during the weekends.
- I will leave my phone in my bag instead of on my desk.
- I will look out the train window or read a book and not check my phone until I arrive.
In addition, van de Kolk shares suggestions for what to do when stress strikes (I have sooo much to do! I need to be doing twenty things right now). For instance, when a thought arises, ask yourself: “Should I give this my attention right now?” This helps you make conscious, deliberate decisions. Maybe you can do it later. Maybe someone else can do the task.
Consider setting a timer for 20 minutes and focusing on one task, without any distractions. Divide your day into brackets, such as work, mail, calls, cleaning, cooking, playing.
Plan time in your day to do nothing, such as sitting on a park bench and letting time “slip right through your fingers,” van de Kolk writes. When you “check out” like this, you actually expand your sense of time, which helps you to feel less hurried and stressed.
Van de Kolk also notes that research has shown that we create half of our interruptions (like checking email while eating breakfast). Instead when the urge to do something else resurfaces, take a deep breath and refocus your attention on what you’re currently doing. “This sharpens your mind and, over time, increases your capacity to concentrate longer on one thing,” she writes.
The urge to do too many things at once is very strong. And most days we get sucked in (and we might not even realize it). But that also means that we become more distracted and likely more stressed.
Experiment with single tasking. See how you feel during and after doing just one thing. What does it feel like to simply sip my coffee, to only sip my coffee? What does it feel like to watch birds land on trees? What does it feel like to look into my loved one’s eyes? What does it feel like to chop these vegetables? What does it feel like to do nothing for 5 minutes? If you find joy and peace in it, consider making it an important part of your day.
Make a commitment to yourself. Make a commitment to savoring more calm, more quiet. Make a commitment to honor yourself in this powerful way. Because, again, that’s what single tasking really does: As tough as it might be at first (or second or third), focusing on one activity at a time helps us to honor ourselves.