May 21, 2015

Multi-Tasking: The Nemesis of Mindfulness


In today's plugged-in, hurry-up culture, I'd venture to guess that multi-tasking is an epidemic. And, what makes me kind of sad, now that I really think about it, is that for many years I have actually prided myself on my ability to multi-task. Now, I'm not so proud of it...and I'm finding it a really hard habit to break.

As I've started to pay more attention to things lately, to become more aware of what I'm doing and how I'm doing it, I've noticed how often I am multi-tasking. I eat my breakfast while checking email or getting the kids' breakfast or driving the car. I unload the dishwasher while talking on the phone. I clean up the kitchen while cooking dinner. I look at my facebook feed while brushing my teeth. Heck, like most moms I can make dinner, talk on the phone, empty the dishwasher, fix a toy, help with homework, and make my grocery list all at the same time.

Impressive...or sad?

I used to think the former...like a badge of honor. Now, I think the latter. How distracted are my conversations? How many things do I miss doing things with half- or less- of my attention. And what is it doing to me? To my brain? To my well-being?

I recently watched an interview with Jon Kabat-Zinn about mindfulness, which referenced an interview with Michael Pollan I had watched a few weeks earlier when he too had talked about mindfulness. And my main take-away from that interview, the mantra I carry with me like a minfulness touchstone, is this: When you're stirring the pot, stir the pot.

Which basically means, quit multi-tasking. Don't do 5 other things while you're cooking dinner. When you're cooking dinner, just cook dinner.

When you're stirring the pot, just stir the pot.

Don't do other things. Don't think about other things. Be there, in the moment. Be aware. Pay attention to what you're doing. When you're stirring the pot, stir the pot.

This shorthand for what mindfulness is, at its essence, drives home for me how often I am living in a...what's the right word for it...state of mindlessness? And not just when I'm accomplishing tasks, but also when I'm with my kids. How often am I typing a text while listening to something my kids are telling me? Do I sometimes check email while we're playing a board game? Do I cook dinner while listening to my daughter read? Do I fold laundry while spending time with them? Do I half watch them playing at the park while I'm on my phone doing...whatever?

There is always so much to get done that multi-tasking often feels like the only option. Just like rushing.

But maybe it's not.

Maybe I can go back to doing one thing at a time. To giving everything (or at least most things) my full attention when I am doing them (or being with them). Put down the phone and look at the person talking to me. Just brush my teeth...nothing else. Eat my breakfast without distraction.

Stir the pot.

This morning I ate my yogurt while sitting quietly at the kitchen island. For the five minutes this took, I did not do anything else. No email. No book. No nothing.

It was good yogurt.

And I'm pretty sure those five minutes did not put me behind schedule on anything.

But can I expand this to the other things in my life? Can I simply play the game, listen to the book, talk on the phone...can I simplystir the pot?

I would imagine it's going to take some real effort, but I think I can. I'm certainly going to try.

So I am pledging here on MamaManagement to do my very best with this goal:

No more multi-tasking.

Instead, mindful awareness and attention (and intention) throughout my day.

Join me.

Let's go back to a time before we were all trying to accomplish five different things in any given moment. Or maybe let's go forward to a new time. A time of awareness and attention and intention. A time of mindfulness. A time of enjoying life's little pleasures and life's everyday tasks.

And let's do it together.

Until next time, just stir the pot.



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