How I stopped multi-tasking and actually got something done.
I love teaching Yoga. No matter what else is going on in my life, when I step in front of a class as their teacher, everything else fades away. I am completely and totally involved in the moment, and remain that way until class is over, and I am feeling just as renewed as my students. I love having that single focus, and I know it makes me a more effective teacher.
I was thinking about that this morning as I headed from my class back to my home office. I felt great, but was already getting a little frazzled as I drove home while making a few phone calls and thinking about the day ahead. And then I had an idea for an experiment. What if I tried, just tried, to bring that focus to my non-Yoga (and lately, very non-Yogic) workday?
First, a little background as to how things are going these days. I am not someone who always has her cell phone in hand, always on her laptop, doing several things at once, while paying attention to nothing. Or at least I wasn’t like that until recently. Over the past year, as I’ve adjusted to my part-time schedule at an advertising agency while continuing to teach my full class schedule and help manage a thriving family, something happened. When I took on my job, I got a laptop for work, which went in the same home office where my personal laptop resides. For my 50th birthday I got an I-pad. When my company celebrated its anniversary, I got an IPod shuffle. In December, to help us all become digitally savvy; my company gifted each employee with a Google Nexus tablet. So you can imagine the number of devices and cords that live in my office. It is ridiculous. Even more ridiculous is how things started to evolve.
Almost from the moment I wake up I am plugged in and multi-tasking. I check various devices at 5:30 I in the morning as I send a quick work email or with someone a Faceboook happy birthday before heading out to teach. My office workday begins mid-morning when I return from teaching. As I walk in the door, I am pulling my IPhone out of my bag and attaching the headset. Once at my desk, I charge the phone and flip open the lid of my personal laptop and my work laptop, typing passwords into both. I scan two screens and begin answering emails. I join a conference call, and, during a lull, begin to scan some e-mails about upcoming Yoga events. I have a to-do list that is filled with items in various sections pertaining to the different areas of my life and within minutes of sitting down it becomes jumbled with illegible notes. I jump up to grab some lunch, usually still on the phone, bring the lunch back to my desk and take bites in between my conference call contributions. Sometimes I will throw in a load of laundry, or empty the dishwasher, usually while I am in the middle of working on a document—how lucky to work at home and be able to do that. If there is a webinar, I grab my laptop and take it upstairs, plug in my headphones and hop on the treadmill while I listen in. And it doesn’t end. At the end of the day I am getting dinner ready while still working on tow computers, playing Words with Friends on my IPad and logging my daily calories on My Fitness Pal on my Google Nexus tablet. Finally, after dinner I sit down to watch TV, but since my husband is working on his laptop while he watches, I grab my IPad and surf Facebook while I half-pay attention to whatever is on TV. If you think you are exhausted reading this, you can imagine how exhausted I feel during the day. At the end of the day I am uneasy, distracted and very, very tired.
So, as I said, today I decided to commit to do just one thing at a time. It seemed like a simple idea. I came home from class, and instead of opening up computers and grabbing my cell phone, I scrambled an egg and some spinach and sat down to eat it. I made a promise to myself to sit for at least 10 minutes, without reaching for the phone or a tablet. I had to really slow down to make breakfast last 7 minutes and then I made myself sit for 3 more minutes. It was hard, but it was also nice. I actually tasted my breakfast, and, instead of feeling hungry after gobbling it down, I felt satisfied.
Now to my office. I opened my work computer, but did not lift the lid on my personal computer. That was big, as I knew there was some Yoga business waiting. I gave myself 20 minutes to read and answer various e-mails before preparing for a meeting. Even though it took a concerted effort, it already was having a calming effect on me. I was able to really prepare for my meeting, taking time to pay attention to some data I needed to analyze, and, of course, the meeting was productive. Even though I was tempted, I did not once turn to my “other” laptop during a lull in the meeting as I often do. I never had to say “Sorry, I couldn’t hear what you just said” to mask the fact that I wasn’t paying attention. This won’t come as a surprise to any Yoga practitioners, but I was actually enjoying the day more by being present. I decided that if I stayed focused until noon, I would do an e-mail check on my personal laptop before I ate. I did that, but kept myself from checking Face book, which was hard. I closed the lid to that laptop. I ate lunch, again without any devices in hand, again feeling much more satisfied than usual. Then, back to work, again with only one laptop open. When my computer “ding-ed” to indicate incoming emails, I resisted the urge to click over to see what had come in until I finished what I was working on. It was an effort, but already I could see the results. The items on my list were getting checked off and I felt clear and focused. Interestingly, I was not jumping up every 30 minutes to grab a snack—I didn’t even notice my usual afternoon hunger pangs. At the end of the day, I checked my personal emails once more, and then closed both computers. My daughter had just gotten home from school and I gave her my undivided attention, which of course was lovely. I noticed her gorgeous smile and what a great outfit she had on (she has an awesome sense of style). I told her about my experiment and she said “Everyone knows that multi-tasking is less effective than being focused”. She’s so smart. She invited me to take a break and watch a show on TV with her to wind down, but I decided to stay on course. On to make dinner-no phone or computer checking. Dinner prep was a breeze and took less time than usual. A couple of phone calls came in and I was able to take them, completely focused. Of course, once I shut down the office, lots of “to-do’s” came to mind. Each time, instead of dropping everything and doing whatever popped into my mind, I just wrote them down. After I made dinner, I had one more computer session, and began writing this blog. I had a great dinner catching up with the kids, and I knew I would still have energy to catch up with Seth when he came home a little later. Now as I complete this lengthy story, it is 7:40. I am going to step away from the computer, take Zoë to her dance class, and then relax…completely.
When I teach my classes, I always advise students to be present. I’m so glad I am beginning to listen to myself. As day transitions to night I feel calm, energized and accomplished. There is a sense of completion to this day. I am looking forward to honing my uni-tasking skills in the days ahead.
I challenge you to one day of focus—see how much you can accomplish. Let me know how it goes.