A version of this post was first published here
(I’ve been thinking about this stuff a lot recently, and then my friend Defah got me thinking even more!)
I was listening to a podcast recently. I am a big fan of podcasts and the one I listened to was recommended to me by Author/Illustrator/Fair Trade Ambassador Chris Haughton*. I don’t take just anyone’s recommendation when it comes to podcasts, but I met Chris when he was in Melbourne years ago and he’s just a great guy and a good thinker. I’m into recommendations by great guys, so off I went to have a listen (and a think.)
The podcast in question is an interview with 4 Hour Work Week author Timothy Ferriss. (You can buy tickets to see Tim speak for the cost of a small Pacific island.) Tim’s an interesting speaker, and I was kicking myself that I didn’t have a notepad as I took my daily walk, because he said a lot of stuff that got me thinking.
Let me set the scene… So, there I was with my new friend Mr Ferriss in my ears at six o clock in the morning. I knew nothing about him and had not even read his book, The 4 Hour Work Week. Hmm. I am a bit turned off by the title, truth be told. It makes me feel lazy just hearing it. I have a wacky work ethic which makes me feel sloth-like if I don’t keep busy 18 hours of the day. Four hours a WEEK? That seemed a bit demented to me. I did, however, want to have a listen and see what he was all about. Heck, people seem to like Tim. I wanted to give Tim a go too. And so I did.
Do you know what? I am glad that I did give Tim a chance. I learned a lot. I will not tell you all the things Tim said, because I don’t want to steal his thunder and you can listen for free yourself. But ONE of the things Tim said made me stop in my tracks. I thought you would want to know about it. Maybe you already know about it? Tim talked about learning to SINGLE TASK. Holy moses. I think this idea is BIG.
You don’t have to dig very deep to realise that Tim is not the only one to extol the virtues of single-tasking. Gretchen Rubin, author of one of my favourite books The Happiness Project, talks about focus here, and Leo Babauta of Zen Habits has some further anti-multi-tasking (phew!) advice here.
When you think about it, you realise we are strongly encouraged to multi-task. A lot of us even like to think we are really good at it, that’s it’s a total asset. You can see us, right? We’re stirring the risotto, while we’re glancing at the newspaper, yelling homework advice, sipping wine, listening to Classic Hits FM, wondering about tomorrow’s to-do list, polishing the peanut butter off the iPad screen and trying to pick up spilled Cheezels with our toes. And that’s probably a quiet early evening. We didn’t even factor in trying to look nice, smell nice, plan nice, act nice and be nice, amidst all the practicalities.
Tim has been on about single tasking for years. I think I missed it because I was way too busy competing in the Multi-Tasking Olympics. Probably I was shaving my legs while walking the dog whilst thinking about finding the school raffle tickets whilst wondering if waterproof mascara is making my eyelashes fall out whilst deciding whether to buy that book I saw recommended on that blog last week whilst hopefully trying to iron my dress with the hairdryer whilst grating carrots.
Ow. My brain hurts just typing that. Imagine how it feels actually DOING that. It’s not good.
So THIS weekend, why don’t you give single tasking a trial run. I’m going to do it too. Let’s just do one thing at a time, devoting our attention to the task at hand. Let’s focus on soaking up the thing we are doing and try to avoid being distracted. Let’s give each thing a good run for its money. Let’s stop stacking stuff up like task-Jenga and just move a bit more slowly and purposefully… like, um… chess!
Let’s stop training so hard for the Multi-Tasking Olympics, because it might make our brains and bodies feel lots better. And let’s stop counting the balls that other people are juggling, and just deal with our own balls (tee-hee) one at a time. And let’s take breaks between each task. They will be called Ball Breaks.
Let’s see what kind of gains we get from the one-by-one approach. Let’s do that! Are you in? Do you want to single-task?