I used to pride myself on my ability to multi-task. I can eat meals while working, having conversations through Facebook messenger with friends who need a little support and snuggling my cats.
Just because you can do something though, doesn’t mean you should.
The chaos of juggling multiple things at one time left me too anxious to go on by mid-day. What I had accomplished wasn’t done as well as it could have been, kitty cuddling included. No one and nothing was getting my full attention, meaning I wasn’t doing a good job taking care of myself, writing, being a caregiver or being a friend.
This wasn’t something I acknowledged as being an issue until I got a concussion. For weeks, I couldn’t even knit anything that didn’t have the absolute most basic pattern while listening to music or my brain would fritz.
Learning to focus on one thing at a time was difficult, but it paid off in that I was able to get more done in the end. As I heal, I can see how beneficial this light on multi-tasking life will be.
In this go-go-go, busy, hyper-connected world, it’s tempting to cram as much into as little time as possible. Here’s what is helping me change my mindset.
1. I want to be my best self
If you can get something done with only part of your attention focused on the task, imagine what you could do with your full attention?
I can write an article in fragmented pieces between answering emails, but it’s often only after 10 or 15 minutes of struggling with words that the sentences suddenly begin to flow and the writing feels natural and unlaboured. It’s pieces written like this that don’t need much proof reading by me and that editors rarely send back with major changes. In the end, focusing my full attention on this one task saves me time, but, much more importantly, it allows me to put out into the world the best of me.
2. I want to have real experiences
Ever have a conversation with someone and later not remember what you chatted about or, worse, in the moment realized that they’ve paused for a response and you don’t know what to say?
Beside being rude, it’s proof that you’re missing out on real life experiences. I don’t even want to think about the countless times I’ve returned home from spending time with a good friend, regretting that I was too focused on watching my phone for an email to have really enjoyed their company. Instead of having the memory of a rich interaction and the positive feelings that come from that, I was regretful. But also a little too busy looking at my phone for another email to register this fully.
3. I want to enjoy life
Always listening to podcasts while walking through the forest, how will I ever hear the birds? Looking at my phone on the park bench, I might miss an otter swimming passed in a nearby pond. Working while chatting with a friend, I might not notice the subtext of the conversation.
I’ve been trying to practice mindfulness throughout my days lately. Noticing the sounds, smells and sights of my surroundings has enriched the most mundane moments of life, including standing on a downtown street corner waiting for my shopping buddy to arrive. And pulling my mind into the moment—rather than dwelling on the to-do list, financial issues and odd social interactions—reduces how much anxiety builds up throughout the day.
It’s hard to fully enjoy all the rich complexities of life when the brain is trying to do too many things at once. It’s been through meditating that I’ve discovered how beautiful life is when it’s simple. From the concussion, I learned how focusing in on one thing is kind to our overworked brains.
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Featured image by Daniel Lobo.
As I get better, it’s been more difficult to gauge what is pushing it too much. Earlier this week, I had an amazing day with no symptoms. The next day, after scooping dog poop and weeding in the back yard, mopping the floors, making lunch for Lucas and I, working 1.5 hours and sitting in the sun listening to podcasts about finances without a hat or sunglasses, it dawned on me that I’d only had such a good day because I’d spent most of my time between 15 minute stints of work sitting still with a hat and sunglasses, even when in the shade.
Having a successful day requires so much mindfulness. It’s a great lesson, but one that I’m slow to learn. Maybe I’ll get it down by the time my brain is healed and ready for full action again. In the meantime, a couple of the musicians from Cottonwood Club, a band my partner is in, gave me this lil’ fellow to keep me company on my side of the car. They also gave me a container of homemade vegan cookies, but I might have already eaten them…