One thing at a time

As usual, I have about a half dozen unfinished blog posts about various thoughts I’ve had over the last couple of weeks about parenting, or my kids, or writing, or how I am turning 40 this year and feel like I have no effing clue how I got here.

And, as usual, I have identified that in order to keep up with the “deal” that I struck with myself– to write a blog post a week even if it kills me– this is the only free time I’ve got that won’t interfere with my sleep. Unfortunately, this free time is coming at the expense of having to let my sons dance-wrestle in the living room while listening to a radio station that I would NEVER choose to listen to. And while I try to string thoughts together into some sort of coherent whole even though I am half-listening to what they are doing and half-listening for suspect lyrics, I am struck by how this scene feels indicative of how I have been living my life: like I am trying to do a million things at once and doing none of them well.

yes, I do appreciate the irony of a twin mom saying we should only do one thing at a time.

yes, I do appreciate the irony of a twin mom saying we should only do one thing at a time.

When I became a parent, and a single parent to twins at that, I realized I previously had no idea what “multi-tasking” really was. Suddenly, I learned how to truly accomplish several things at once. It was a matter of survival. Before, I may have thought that making a phone call while doing some computer task was multi-tasking at its finest. Then, it was feeding two babies, watching a movie and grocery shopping online. Now, I can make a call, referee a fight, strategize a work meeting, feed the cat and answer an email on my phone without skipping a beat.

Except that I have grown tired of it. Very, very tired.

I don’t want to multi-task any longer. In fact, I call bullshit on the whole practice. Can we really do so many things at once and be successful? I don’t think so. And I am going to go out on a limb and say that the practice of multi-tasking and the expectation of it is one of the main contributing factors to our ADD-riddled, distracted, emotionally disconnected and technology-dependent society.

My sons, one more than the other, can not sit in the car for more than 5 minutes without complaining they are bored. Suggestions of: listen to music, look out the window or daydream are met with the hopeless eye-roll. And these are kids with imaginations that could create an entire alternative universe. But they want to be entertained. Preferably with several things at once.

I don’t think that they learned this from me, but maybe they did. Maybe they see me answering emails while we are watching TV. Or that I am changing the laundry while I am cooking dinner and writing at the computer. All I know for sure is that I have reached a point where all the multi-tasking is driving me nuts.

My mind has always been full of thoughts. However, there used to be a time where I could just sit down and think. The only time this happens now is while I am driving. And this is dangerous, too. I can’t count how many times I’ve arrived at work or at home and have been so busy thinking that I don’t even recall the drive very clearly. I want to be able to shut down some of those browser windows in my brain. I want to be able to concentrate on one thing at a time. I want to declare an end to multi-tasking.

Multi-tasking is the enemy of zen. It prevents us from conscious living. Sure, you can get several things done at once, but if any of those things move beyond mindless tasks, i.e. put the groceries away while you talk on the phone, you are robbing something of your mindfulness and therefore, it isn’t really done or good or whole.

In every job interview I’ve had since the boys were born, I have bragged about how I’ve honed my time management skills since they were born so that I could be both effective at work and at home in the time that I had allotted to either. This is simultaneously very true and the biggest load of crap ever.

Sure, I have honed those skills. I can pretty much get everything done that I need to get done at any given time, even if it kills me. But that’s just it. It’s killing me. Or at least, hurting me. Basically, I’ve figured out how to give the least amount of attention to any given task in front of me so that I can complete it successfully and still do everything else I need to do.

And that is crap.

True time management would be to figure out how to give the most attention to everything in front of me, in order to complete everything successfully at any given time.

It is something which I think we as a society need to work at. We are expected to do more at our jobs in less amounts of time with less help. We expect our children to do more activities and do more at school and structure so much of their lives that daydreaming is becoming obsolete. We use our phones while we are driving, watch T.V. while we are eating and surf the internet while we are waiting in line at the store. We rush from one thing to the next while thinking about the third thing we have to do. It seems nothing gets our undivided attention. And that is a shame.

It is time to slow down. Cut some things out. Focus on what is in front of us. Lying in the grass and staring up at the clouds is becoming a lost art. Listening to our kids, our spouses, our friends…REALLY listening, without thinking about anything else, without doing anything else is becoming an uncommon practice. And at the end of the day, these are the things that matter. Our connections to each other, to ourselves, to our present are what make life worth living. Shouldn’t we give each moment everything we’ve got? 

Instead of the war on drugs, let’s just say no to multi-tasking. Then there wouldn’t be a need for drugs to medicate ourselves into a peaceful, one-track mind. What a better world it would be if we could tend to the moment at hand with our whole minds and bodies and hearts. Deep breaths now…go.

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