A few days ago, I posted a blog about why multitasking is so bad for us. Today I want to continue the topic, but get really practical.
So we all can agree that multitasking leaves us haggard, drained, and a worse version of ourselves, but how do we take tangible steps to stop this habit?
I am not an expert, and I’d encourage anyone reading this to do further research since many smarter people have written extensively on this subject. But I’d like to propose some ideas that I’m exploring in my own life. I hope that engaging in some of these will help in the effort to live a more present, purposeful existence.
- Designate phone-free time every day. Maybe you’d like to declare your dinner table with family or friends phone-free, or maybe an hour of focused reading or prayer. It will likely be different for everyone, but the point is that if we can’t live without the distraction of our phones for at least a measure of time each day, we have a major problem. Saying no to the impulse to check email or social media is the first step of ending our addiction to multitasking.
- Speaking of social media (c’mon, you knew this was coming), take regular breaks from it. We are training our brains to never have a free moment to daydream or think or pray in the margins. We automatically scroll every time there is a hot minute of silence, which is absolutely killing our souls. Not to mention that every time we log on we play the unhealthy psychological comparison game. Comparing your life to your social media friends’ lives is like comparing someone’s immaculate formal dining room to your junk closet. It’s apples to Doritos and it’s ridiculous.
When I say “take a break,” this could take many different forms: I’ve known people who have completely disengaged for a month or longer. If you’re someone who conducts business through social media, this may not be feasible (but please don’t automatically disqualify yourself without taking time to think it through. If you need that long of a break, PLEASE TAKE IT). I know some people who set certain days of the week and/or hours of the day where social media is off limits to them. You know yourself, and if you get still and quiet enough, you will know what’s right for you. The important thing is to disconnect from it somehow, because if we don’t, it will use us instead of the other way around.
- Organize your days around blocks of time instead of to-do lists. Do you feel as if your to-do list is an ever-present cloud hanging over your head? First of all, you're not alone. Secondly, this feeling is a major contributor to falling into the trap of multitasking. In order to prevent that constant stress, we have to change our orientation. This shift has been and continues to be a challenging, yet freeing one for me.
Practically, this looks like scheduling specific blocks of time for different tasks, people, and activities, and being diligent about keeping those inside their designated time slot. On my calendar, you’ll see many different color blocks: purple for writing, orange for housework or household business, yellow for things related to my kids’ school, etc. I’m not great at it yet, but I’m practicing the discipline of focusing solely on the work of that time slot. If I’m in “purple time” I try to block out the fact that I have 3 forms to sign and 2 loads of laundry and a partridge in a messy pear tree. If our to-do list is our boss, we’ll shut out people, or worse yet use people, in our quest to appease it. When we see our day not as one long list of things to accomplish, but a gift, with many different ways of using our time, we’ll say no to multitasking. It will lose its allure and we’ll be free to be present and focused.
I heard a leader once say that instead of attempting to live a balanced life, we should aim to live a passionate life. I’m beginning to understand that statement more and more. When I try to balance everything, I drop lots of things. When I try to focus my passion and energy solely on the person or endeavor in front of me, the right things get accomplished.
We can not do it all. We can not have it all. But we can be present enough to value the people in our lives above our tasks. And we can be focused enough to get enough done for today. I pray the Lord’s prayer every day. And when I pray “…and give us today our daily bread…” I also think in terms of emotional, mental, and physical capacity. Jesus wanted us, I believe, to focus on “enough for today.” Which is why he also told us “Don’t worry about tomorrow, because today’s troubles are sufficient for today.” We humans like to take on much more than we should, and often feel it’s necessary for us to do so. If I had a nickel for every time I heard, “Well, who else is going to do it?” even in my own head, I’d be filthy rich. So let’s set aside what can wait for tomorrow, and be content with doing enough for today.
Please be kind to one another today, and above all, please remember you are loved.