Our culture – particularly work culture – tends to fetishize multitasking. In this always ON world, I hear a lot of people proudly tout their ability to multitask and name it as one of the reasons for their professional success or a reason they’d hire one person over another.
But, as most of us know, it’s actually physically impossible to do more than one activity at once. There’s a ton of research on this, but if you want a quick snapshot check out this quick video. Your brain and body are just shifting their focus from one task to the next more frequently – from email, to messaging, to reading an article, or whatever set of activities you fill your day with. And we end up paying less attention to each task, make more mistakes, and come out of the whole situation less accomplished and fulfilled.
But it’s hard to avoid the onslaught of demands for your time, at the same time – the pings, email notifications, phone calls, chores and obligations. And over time, it starts to erode our ability to actually deeply focus on any one thing because we become so programmed to shifting in between different activities so quickly. I’ve definitely felt myself in these places, where I am impatient and furiously swiping on my phone in search of…nothing. Not good.
I try to build practices into the weekdays that help me fight the tidal wave, to varied success. One thing that I’ve found helpful is to train, or re-train, my mind to stay in one place, on one activity, during the weekend – where my time is much more my own.
- Half-techie shut down: Sometimes I need to completely unplug and just shut down all technology (see Taryn’s Screenless Saturday for the benefits of that approach). But, more often, I just need to shut down all the crap that comes my way without me asking for it – particularly email and social media. I still want to be able to look up who Aziz Ansari’s girlfriend is after reading all about her in Modern Romance. I still want to use Google Maps to help me find my friend’s place in Jersey. I still want to be able to take an instantenous picture of my husband’s sudden urge to wear a bandana and run around the house screaming “I am a ninja!” But I don’t want to be hit with all the things I wasn’t planning on seeing. So, shutting down inbound technology for a day has been my go-to reset on Sundays.
- Marathon reading: Sitting down with a book and reading for 2-3 straight hours is the ultimate indulgence and is a great re-training in focus. No picking up your phone to quickly check in with your “phone world” between chapters. No turning on the TV to see if there’s anything interesting on instead. Just plowing through chapters of a good read. This is a tougher one for me, so I’ve set an ambitious reading goal for the year to keep me honest.
- Cooking cooking cooking! If I’m feeling up for something a little more active, cooking achieves the same benefits for me. I’ve often used Sunday as a day to cook a few good meals for the week. The attention, coordination and creativity that it takes to make multiple meals at once is a challenge – aside from the actual space challenge presented by a small Brooklyn kitchen. Last week it was a vat of red lentils and freekeh + granola + chocolate chip cookies. The week before cranberry muffins + fish tacos + turkey chili. Random combinations, but that’s where the beauty and the focus comes in.
This is definitely the winter version of this list. Or maybe that’s the newly minted homebody in me feeling some queasiness. Regardless, when it’s a little warmer or you have little ones running around, I’m sure there’s a different set of possibilities to help folks focus. But for now, I’m digging these.