Infomagical’s day one call to action was single-tasking. As a leadership coach, I regularly espouse mindfulness to my clients. I know the benefits. I believe in them. I’ve even reorganized and realigned my life so that the conditions invite a steadier, more grounded pace. Case in point: as I typed that last sentence, I glanced out of the windows into the woods that surround my home and took a deep and grateful breath.
So, naturally, I listened to yesterdays podcast and thought, “I have this one in the bag. Bring on the hard stuff, Note to Self!”
I went on with that self-satisfied feeling until the last few sentences of the podcast when host Manoush Zomorodi said she was going to sign off and go drink her coffee. And only drink her coffee. Boom!
My hand paused on its way to the radio knob (I was on the road). Really? Drink coffee and nothing else? I had felt so good about my single-tasking abilities until I realized that even as I was listening to this podcast and congratulating myself of an early success, I had been multi-tasking all along: driving and listening. Listening and thinking. Thinking and judging. The proverbial gauntlet had been thrown down.
For the rest of the day, I focused on doing just one thing at a time. Here are a few things I tried:
- Walking down the hallway to a meeting, I did not check my phone. I just walked.
- Writing a proposal, I did not use the three-finger swipe on my Mac to flip between other windows, check emails, or pop onto social media. I just wrote.
- Eating lunch, I left my phone in the other room. I sat at the table and just ate. I looked out the windows. I smelled and tasted my food. (Side note: this was probably my most enjoyable single-task effort of the day.)
- Making dinner with my husband last night – Salmon Niçoise, resist the urge to click! See? Really hard. – I didn’t start a load of laundry. I didn’t call my mom. I just cooked. And we had a great conversation about Infomagical.
After a day of practice, and playing with all of the above, here are my two big takeaways:
1. I wanna go fast (please read that like Will Ferrel in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby).
Even though I’ve made an effort to create a slower-paced life, I have this innate drive in me to go fast. I think of it, and often describe it, as optimizing. I normally don’t even feel it, I just do it. Like UPS, I *heart* logistics.
But by intentionally going slowly and focusing on one thing and one thing only all day, I noticed moments when I could physically feel the pull in me to go faster. A tightness in my chest. An urge to sprint forward.
I started to wonder if optimizing is actually getting in the way of my effectiveness. By focusing on one thing at a time, I felt clear. More focused. Like the noise turned down in my brain and I could use all of my resourcefulness to really engage with the one thing in front of me.
I noticed that tasks I would normally avoid took much less time. I even ended up with an extra 30 minutes of “found time” on my calendar yesterday when I finished the to-do list I had blocked off time for.
2. Mindlessness creeps in, even when you’re trying to be mindful. Just come back to it.
At one point I wondered: if I was truly single-tasking, and I happened to be working on, say, the proposal I mentioned above, and my phone rang, what would I do?
I decided that if it would take me less time to take the call than to have to follow up (for example, answer when it was someone I had been playing phone tag with), I would answer in the moment. And, that I would close my computer screen while I was on the phone. A few minutes later when the phone rang, I did just that: I took the brief call, hung up, and intended to put the phone down and return to the task at hand.
But, guess what happened? As I hung up the phone, my thumb answered the call of my brain’s neurotransmitters – in their own attempt to optimize without my conscious knowledge – and opened and started swiping through Instagram. I caught myself in the act! My body unconsciously, unmindfully, working against my intentions.
In that moment, even in the presence of very clear intentions, I was mindless. And I smiled. It was such an important reminder that our brain loves shortcuts, too. And in order to truly recognize and reorganize the ways of our lives, we have to consciously work with our brain to make new ways stick.
As I sat back yesterday evening and reflected on Day 1 of this experiment, I felt very grateful for what I had learned about mindfulness and focus. At first, however, I didn’t see how it really helped me toward my goal of being more creative. Until this post started writing itself in my head, and I realized that by single-tasking, I had cleared enough space in my mind for writing.
Ah, there you are, I thought. Creativity. Welcome.