The Beauty of Mono-tasking
Updated: Apr 2, 2021
I’m not a huge New Year’s Resolutions kind of person, but this year I created one. It’s more of an intention than a resolution, I guess. Whatever you label it, my goal was to mono-task more.
I’m not sure if mono-task is even technically a word, so if you haven’t heard it before, I probably made it up. I’m taking it to mean the opposite of multitasking.
I created this intention because I realized I was wrapped up in doing as many things as possibly as quickly as possible. For some tasks this is fine: watching TV while folding laundry. But for so many other tasks, I realized it was zapping me of energy.
Whether I was writing an email while in an online class or doing 7 things at once in the kitchen, multitasking was causing me to feel busier than I actually was. It was driving me more towards the illusion of productivity and further from the real thing.
I was rarely fully present, and I certainly wasn't grounded. When I looked back on my week, I could hardly remember what I did. That's not the intention I had for my life.
As soon as I started trying to break up with multitasking, I realized exactly how much I was doing it: all the time. Our culture totally glorifies it. Think about the movies depicting busy business women in power pant suits who stride confidently through a bustling office. As they make their way through the cubicles, they bark coffee orders, sign contracts, answer questions, make demands—all on their way to their 1pm meeting. That’s the image of success that we’re fed since before we can speak, that busy-ness = success.
I’m kind of done with that.
Being super busy doesn’t make me feel good. It makes my anxiety flare up. It tricks me into feeling like I don’t have time for the things that matter most: taking care of myself, spending time with the people I love, spending time in nature. Making and experiencing art. Enjoying food. Breathing deep. Moving my body. Laughing really, really hard.
And then when I get out into nature, I look at her slow pace and it calms me right down. The river focuses only on flowing. The trees focus only on growing. Even the animals, apparently busy flitting from branch to branch, focus on one task at a time before moving on to the next. They often take time to simply look around.
For animals, presence is a necessity: if they aren’t present, they get eaten.
For us, the consequences aren't quite as dire, at least not on the surface. But multitasking still isn't good for us. It seems like a life hack, a way to get more done in less time. But it turns out that’s not really the case; multitasking can actually reduce productivity. It can also negatively impact how our brains function even when we’re not multitasking.
Not ideal. So why are we so obsessed with it?
I have a theory. I think being busy all the time and layering our activity allows us to stay distracted. Distracted from how we’re really feeling, distracted from the tragedies of the world, distracted from the trauma we’ve suppressed. I think it’s a tool to keep us from sinking in.
Because when we sink into ourselves and our emotions, we have to deal with whatever comes up, and usually it’s not fun. Our culture teaches us not to feel the negative emotions, to just be happy all the time. Think about how common it is for someone to say “Don’t cry” when someone is upset.
“Don't be mad.”
Wait...why not cry?! If I’m upset about something and I need to cry, shouldn’t I cry!?
We’re not taught to feel our big bad feelings, but that doesn’t stop them from occurring. We end up pushing them down and distracting ourselves, making multitasking the perfect illusion of progress.
If we want to live authentically, we need to be authentic internally and externally. Dealing with negative emotions may not be fun, but it’s necessary. It's a part of us. We need to be fully present with the tough stuff so we can be fully present with the joy. And to be fully present with anything, we need to let go of everything else.
Embodiment in Business
I've been putting my resolution to use and let me tell ya, I'm already noticing a huge difference. I feel calmer, less anxious. I'm enjoying my days more. When I look back at the end of the week, I actually remember what I did. Time feels slower, more precious.
I'm sure I'm showing up differently for people, too. I'm coming to meetings and conversations more embodied and grounded. This has a ripple effect outward—I know because after I spend time with people who are embodied and grounded, I leave feeling more the same way and less frazzled. It's lovely.
In addition to being present in each moment of my day, I'm intentionally leaving space for what comes up. I'm starting my day knowing I don't yet know everything that will occur, and intentionally leaving blocks in my calendar to meet whatever that may be.
I'm also trying to give myself 15 minute breaks throughout the day so I'm not buzzing from one thing to the next. Seeing those tiny gaps between meetings and projects on my calendar, I'm reminded that taking care of my physical body—getting water, tea, food; going to the bathroom; taking a moment to look out the window—is important.
It's funny that something as expansive as presence can come down to the organization of a calendar, but it's really true. If it helps you, here's my current strategy for baking presence into my day.
I use my calendar like a to do list, blocking off time to get projects done. I have blocks for client work and Moxie work (right now I'm in the middle of a calendar block called "writing").
My right hand woman, Taylor, helps me manage my calendar. She schedules my client meetings and we talk regularly about how to build my calendar to support my mental health. Right now, I take mornings to write and do admin, then I have client calls in the middle of the day, then I have the afternoon to get client work done. I have one day a week free from calls altogether.
I try to leave 15 minute breaks a few times a day between meetings and working blocks. This reminds me it's important to take time for my body and look away from the screen. It also helps on those inevitable days when everything is running behind and taking longer than I expect.
I have an "as needed" block at the end of my day to be sure I have time for the things coming up unexpectedly. I typically start my day not knowing how I'll spend that time, but there's almost always something I need to do when the hour comes around. If there isn't, great—I'm done early!
I know my limits and try not to schedule more than 3 calls a day. Otherwise I feel energetically exhausted and burnt out on Zoom.
If you try out any of these tactics and find success, or if you have any of your own, I'd love to hear them.
Here's to being embodied, grounded, and present in every task we take on—but each one at a time.