Not a newsflash: Multitasking is bad for you.
You know this, I know this, and yet…I can’t help myself.
New episode of The Amazing Race? Bring on the snacks.
Walking somewhere? Earphones in, automatically.
I’ve decided it’s time to train my brain to focus, be patient, and do one thing at a time.
Instead of just internally yelling at myself to focus focus focus, I’ve identified three alternatives for multitasking. Three actual, tangible tasks to bring me back to the present.
3 Things to do instead of Multitasking
1. Notice Things.
Here’s a fun game, as simple as it sounds: notice things.
Notice your surroundings
At Oxford I remember standing outside college on Turl Street, waiting for a friend for lunch. I resisted the urge to pull out my (flip) phone, instead challenging myself to look at the buildings in front of me, follow the ivy curling up the walls. Was there always a clock there?
As an undergraduate, I kept reminding myself to drink in Oxford’s beauty with the urgency I felt as a teenage summer student, in awe of my first visit, knowing that in a few short weeks I might never return (but I did; yay). It’s the perfect place to be stressed because its scenery will hit you over the head until you finally stop to appreciate it.
Find beauty in any place
Even if you’re not in an obviously attractive place, remember that your experience is shaped by what you pay attention to. Notice the breeze. Notice the lettering on a sign you glance at every day. Notice how the leaves on the tree are different from the day before.
If you’re on a screen, notice what’s on the screen.
I’m tempted to switch tabs when I’m watching YouTube, particularly something like the Pretty Little Liars After Show, because they’re just talking.
So I play the noticing game and analyse the ladies’ awesome outfits. I appreciate the art of their eyeshadow. I pay attention to the fun props. I make eye contact through the screen and deepen my commitment to connection.
Stuck in a bad movie, my mind drifts to my to do list. I opt out in my mind, deciding that what’s in front of me is not worth my attention. My concentration becomes divided, trying to ignore the film in front of me [with that blasted immersive surround sound], trying to keep track of the thoughts whirling through my brain.
I get stressed. My body gets physically tense. Better to focus on something, anything that involves engaging with what is in front of me. If the story is sour, note the costumes and set details. Pay attention to the accents and voices. The soundtrack. Play along at least peripherally.
All it takes is a little whisper: breathe.
Hey self? You know that thing you do all day to stay alive? Why not do it fully?
When I notice my breath, I’m surprised by how shallow and short it is, especially when I’m tense from trying to do too many things at once.
Enjoy the luxury of a lungful of air (or two). It’s free after all, and much more scrumptious than scrolling mindlessly through screens will reward you.
This one requires credit to Kitty Cavalier for teaching me how to ?romance my breath?, for insisting on starting all her Vérité sessions with that dreaded deep breathing until it finally sunk in that yes this is a very good idea.
3. Take Illustrated Notes.
Here’s one I learned from my friend [and illustrated Instagram queen] Helen – take notes and doodle at the same time – with purpose!
I’ve started watching webinars and listening to information-filled audios with pen in hand and enough paper to scribble on for days. It’s joyous fun, good practice for my dream of drawing like a Pixar artist, and my notes are so cute I can’t help but revisit them over and over.
I’m a visual person, and I find glancing at illustrated notes SO much more effective than the usual linear format.
Having a pen in hand make me more attentive and engaged. Taking illustrated notes is a perfect complement to a focused active listening session. Much better than tuning in to a podcast on the go and stopping to tap notes on my iPod in a rush – notes that I’ll probably forget to return to!
Let me know – have you been bitten by the Multitasking bug? How do you hurry it away?
P.S. Only a few spots left for my San Francisco tea party on 11 June! Will you be joining us?