Recently The New York Times had a terrific article in the Sunday Style section (my first stop every Sunday morning) about Monotasking. Yes, that is actually a thing. The antithesis of multi-tasking -- monotasking -- in case it has been so long that you actually need a definition -- is doing only one thing at a time. Radical -- I know. In this age of multi-tasking, live tweeting at events, scrolling through Instagram on a conference call, posting, tweeting, retweeting, binge watching - we are constantly bombarded by images, ideas, news, gossip, politics, celebrity. The latest fashion trends, the latest diet tip, the State of the Union, in the US - the political race which is uglier and meaner then it ever has been, new shows, new restaurants, new findings on global warming, healthy living, terrorism, genetics, dangers real and imagined - it goes on and on. It's hard to know where to look, where to be, what to eat and what to focus on.
In the midst of all this -- a movement, growing out of the Mindfulness movement is monotasking. Doing only one thing at a time. The benefit, as it turns out, is by doing just one thing, you do it better, more efficiently, more completely, more effectively and more enjoyably. What a surprise!
I'm sure you know at least one person who always seems incredibly centered. Who takes life at their own pace, who doesn't put their phone on the table when you sit down for a meal. Often these people are very successful, which would go against the thinking that you need to constantly be "on". I had a drink recently with a woman I know and very much admire who is a life coach who works with top executives. There is something about her that -- for lack of a better word - always seems so zen. That coupled with her strategic insights is part of why she is so fantastic at her job and I notice how she always focuses directly on the person she is talking with. She really listens, digests what you are saying and has great guidance, which is one of the reasons that she is always in such high demand.
A week after seeing my friend, I was at Advertising Week Europe doing some Perspectives interviews. (Which incidentally is my favorite place to conduct interviews as I am always struck by the intelligence, wit and smarts of my British interviewees, yes you Kathleen Saxton and Suki Thompson!). One of the talks taking place during the week was called "Let's Talk About Stress, Baby" and was put on by NABS, a British non-profit organization dedicated to the well being of the UK media and advertising community and Suki Thompson, CEO of Oystercatchers, an absolutely lovely, incredibly insightful and highly accomplished woman. The seminar was based on a study that NABS had done on the effects that stress is having on people in the advertising and media business. I spoke with the director of NABS, Diana Tickell and also Suki about this and was surprised -- although I suppose not so much really, on how far reaching the effects of stress are these days. And one huge cause of that stress is the need to be "always on" and always reachable. That level of stress is in such stark contrast to the way my friend, the life coach, who incidentally has just as many demands on her, conducts herself, that it really got me thinking about what take-aways could there be to manage the demands of always being on with the need to be focused.
I interviewed Arianna Huffington at a book launch for her book Thrive (prior to her new book, The Sleep Revolution) and remember very clearly how she suggested that in the evening people put away their devices. In fact, she said that they should not make it into the bedroom and that you should "gently escort your phone and digital devices out of your bedroom each night". I absolutely loved that visual and the philosophy behind it but if you are a person who needs to be answering to your boss, to your clients and to coworkers that may not be an option.
So then, how can you create some structure, find a way to multitask and have some downtime from your devices? Here are five things that you can do right now.
1. Set boundaries.
2. Set downtime -- make sure that you are reachable during that downtime if you need to be so you are not stressing or that would be counterproductive!
3. Find a way to really, truly disconnect.
4. Don't leave your phone, iPad, etc. out during meals or meetings.
5. Stop checking your devices at least one hour before you go to bed.
So tweet, post, check your stocks, read the news, pin things, snapchat, shop away. But also give yourself a chance to just Be. Because that is a type of monotasking that only you can do for you.