Although multitasking has it’s place, it’s often nothing more than doing several things in succession with diminished quality. When it comes to struggling students trying to learn in our fast paced society, multitasking usually gets in the way.
Many years ago, I got ahold of a book called The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen master, activist and Nobel Prize nominee. I was tremendously influenced by a section about washing dishes. Hahn writes,
While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes… There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first way is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second way is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes.
I began to apply this attitude and I became more present in my life, happier, calmer and more focused. This is when I began to turn the radio off while driving. I would feel the steering wheel, breathe, look around in a different way. I began to notice things that I hadn’t previously noticed, like the design of buildings I drove by, the feel of the wind, the peace at a stoplight, the sound of the car. I began to realize that I actually wasn’t in a hurry all the time. I smiled when driving and enjoyed the experience. Colors became brighter. I began to slow down in other areas of my life. It sounds silly but I could even taste my food more. I learned to savor experiences more. It was as if I had been napping through many of my experiences and I was now waking up to them.
Choose one task or activity. Think about how long it might take and decide to be fully present to that task for that period of time.
Now take several slow deep breaths. Be aware of the breath, notice what it feels like.
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine what it might be like if you were fully immersed in this activity.
Begin the activity, and notice everything going on in the moment. How the activity feels, smells, sounds, the colors, shapes, etc.. Enjoy what you are doing. Be grateful that you are alive and able to do whatever you are doing. When (not if) you start drifting to other thoughts, gently remind yourself what you are doing, breathe, smile and refocus.
I’m often easily distracted, so I use other supports. I use a timer so I can focus myself on a task at a time. I use a small white board and write what I’m working on in huge letters. I put it where I can see it, usually in the middle of the floor. I have another small white board that says, “if I get nothing else done today, here are the 3 things that will be done…” I spend time preparing for the activity. This includes cleaning up before I start and making sure I have everything I need when I begin so I don’t have to go get something in the middle. I often turn off my cell phone completely and close distracting windows on the computer. Finally, I chunk or batch tasks. For example, I chunk responding to emails and phone calls into 2-3 hour windows a couple times a week.
Suggested unitasking activities:
Homework. Get everything ready. Get water and a snack. Set the timer. Breathe. Begin with a realistic amount to do in a realistic amount of time. One thing at a time.
Conversation. Look and listen. Notice the human being you are speaking with. Note that they are a person with a full life just like you. Breathe. Now hear them. Really hear.
Writing. Feel the pen. Take your time. Breathe. Smile. Write. Value the thinking and daydreaming time as a necessary part of the process. This is when you hear a teacher’s voice in the back of your head nagging, “get to work!” Well, taking time to think is part of it, so ignore that voice.
Driving. Radio off. Phone off. Feel the wheel, the pedals, the wind. See the route, the sights, the people. Hear the sounds. Just drive.
Reading. Get your area ready for reading first. Eliminate distractions. Get comfortable. Read slowly. Soak the words. Connect to the author’s words. Breathe and enjoy the power of your imagination.
Most important: Unitask by being fully present while spending time with people you care about. It’s the most valuable thing there is.
What do you think? Share your experience below.