Stop Multitasking! A Case For Unitasking

At this point in our mindfulness blog series, we’ve certainly acknowledged what a busy world we live in, and how mindfulness practices such as meditation can help us find balance and ease the stress we feel in our everyday lives.

In this week’s post, we’ll discuss another potential method to cultivate equilibrium, slow down, and focus the mind in the face of such a fast-paced way of life.

Surely you have felt the pressure to multitask throughout your days. Our society promotes it as a requirement in order to actually check off all the items on our ever-growing to-do lists.

We answer emails or make food for our kids while on conference calls. We listen to audiobooks while at the gym. We pay bills while we eat dinner. We text and drive (though hopefully not so much these days, given the danger). Sometimes we even try and juggle four or five of these tasks at once, shifting our attention back and forth and from item to item. It makes us tired just thinking about it all.

While multitasking may seemingly allow us to “get it all done”, this oftentimes comes at the sacrifice of quality, of not being fully present in the moment, and of that constant feeling of being rushed.

We’re never really giving our full attention to any one thing, so perhaps we don’t remember what we ate for breakfast, or we missed a question asked of us during a call and have to ask a colleague to repeat themselves, or we just feel like we’re constantlydoing something.

In our last blog, we discussed how one of the tenets of meditation is just being. This is seemingly in direct contrast to the multitasking mentality of constantly doing something. But is it really? Are those two concepts actually mutually exclusive, or can we harmoniously achieve both?

Unitasking is a way of working through our daily to-do’s one at a time, focusing on each, exclusively. It is touted as a life hack, and we’d argue that it’s also a mindfulness practice that encourages the idea of being while doing.

A case for unitasking – the benefits of a being while doing approach to life

When we focus on just one task – say, crafting an important email to your boss or a dear friend – we give it our full attention. By doing so, we are more likely to appreciate and even enjoy the task, and to observe and remember the details.

Quality improves when we focus our mind and intention on this one thing. Those on the receiving end usually notice and appreciate the effort and attention to detail. And we actually usually finish the task sooner than we might have otherwise. Win-win-win.

You can also think of unitasking as a sort of eyes-open meditation. There is no escaping the fast-paced world we live in, but choosing to focus on just one thing at a time is a way that we can consciously control our lives. In this way, we can find an everyday balance, rather than constantly ping-ponging from one extreme (rushed, multitasking) to another (yoga, meditation).

Not that we shouldn’t be productive, or that yoga and meditation aren’t amazing, but unitasking allows us a more natural transition between these activities and a more deliberate and balanced lifestyle.

How do I unitask? 

Unitasking sounds simple, and while at its core it is, in our multitasking-focused society, it can actually be a bit difficult to execute. Below are some tips and tricks we have tried and tested over the years. It may not be possible to pull them all off right out of the gate, but if you are working toward a more mindful life and want to give these a go, maybe try one per week or one per month and see what works best for you.

  • Eliminate distractions

Interruptions and diversions come in many forms. While these things are not bad per se, they can be, well, distracting when you are trying to focus in on a to-do list item. Here are a few examples that have surfaced in our lives and how we went about triaging them.

  • Address your “busy” or cluttered workspace

Adopt a chef’s mentality of mise en place, or try on the KonMari method. In order to best focus, our desk or workspace should contain only those items that we need at that moment, and not those we don’t. In our experience, when our desk has a bunch of mail and folders on it, we are so tempted to read them, instead of focusing on that email we need to write.

  • Phone notifications – Turn them all off

We’ll wait here while you do… seriously though, these are one of the prime culprits of distraction. How many times have you been working on something, receive a notification that someone commented on your Facebook post, and found yourself 15 minutes later aimlessly scrolling through your feed? This is an easy one to see how it impacts your ability to unitask, and fortunately, an easy one to solve.

  • Talk to your loved ones

This is a tough one, because our loved ones absolutely deserve our attention. If you have very little ones at home, this next tip may not be practical. But if your littles are a bit older and you have a partner to help, give it a shot. Have a conversation with both your partner and your kiddos – let them know that you’d like to work on a project, and give them an estimate of how long it will take, say 30-60 minutes. Ask them to give you that time, uninterrupted. Let them know that after that time, you will be fully available to play or talk. And/or, make a compromise with your partner: they take the kiddos for 30 minutes for you to have focused time, and then you trade and give them the same in return. Clear communication about what you need, how long you need it for, why it’s important to you, and what you’ll give back in return is key here.

  • Nix the TV in the background

This is so commonplace nowadays that we hardly even think about it. To really focus in on your task at hand, simply try turning it off, or, remove yourself to another room. This works wonders for mindful work.

  • Three important things

At the beginning of each day, write down the three most important things you need to do that day. Try to do those early in the day when your attention is usually at its peak. All those other items on your to do list? Let them go, or chip away at them later in the day.

  • Practice in your yoga and barre classes

We are almost always asked to focus on multiple muscle groups or actions during class, but that doesn’t mean you have to – or at least you don’t have to make all the things your focus the entire time. Try moving through a class while primarily focusing on just your abdominals, or just your hamstrings (don’t worry, your other muscles will still get a good workout even though you’re not directly thinking about them). What does it feel like to really connect with that one muscle group? How does it change your focus throughout class? Another idea is to try setting an intention for that class. Be mindful of every moment throughout class and how it connects with and impacts your intention. Do you find this brings you deeper into your flow? Are you able to better carry your intention forward to the rest of your day by making it the exclusive focus of your practice for that hour?

Mindfulness, unitasking, and you

Our society has a hard time slowing down nowadays, a hard time stilling our minds and doing just one thing at a time. There is no doubt a connection between this multitasking mentality and these phrases we hear over and over again from students – “I just can’t hang with restorative yoga” or “I can’t meditate”.

While it takes time and practice to adopt this concept of unitasking, of being while doing, we have found that it has strengthened our ability to focus, to appreciate the simplicity of life, and to find an easy, everyday equilibrium.

Trust that we still love a good, challenging vinyasa flow or pumpin’ barre FiiT class, but know that we now also delight in those blissful restorative yoga sessions as well.