• Lifestyle

A case for single-tasking

Why you need to do just one thing, each day 

By Emma Vidgen

I’ve always thought multitasking was a superpower. I’ve definitely felt a wave of smug superiority reading studies showing women are better at it than men. (Update: apparently this is an urban legend). I’ve even bragged about how great I was at it in a job interview or two. 

Despite talking about slowing down and being present for a living, I struggle not to constantly, unconsciously attempt several things at once. Going for a run? I’ll listen to a podcast. Cleaning the kitchen? I’ll listen to a lecture on YouTube. Catching a train? I’ll catch up on emails… the list goes on. 

The first time I really noticed this quirk was watching TV. There I was, watching Game Of Thrones – something I considered optimal viewing – and I could barely last 10 minutes without picking up my phone to scroll mindlessly. 

Intrigued, I challenged myself to put my phone in another room and watch an episode, phone-free. It felt…really uncomfortable. That’s when it dawned on me that focusing on one thing, at one time, or ‘single tasking’ was a mindfulness practice unto itself.

And so I began to experiment every day. Eating lunch, listening to music, taking a shower – just ordinary things, without distraction. No screens, no headphones, just an intention to try and stay with what I was doing. It was hard… but it was rewarding. So I kept going.

I still have a “sit down, eyes closed” meditation practice most days (let’s be real, with a 20-month old child there are definitely days I don’t get around to it). But practising single tasking is something I can do every day. And that’s why I love practising it and teaching it. 

Single-tasking is like a school zone – an enforced slow down – no matter how busy I am. The more I do it, the more I realise there are little pockets of joy just waiting to be tapped, if only we paid more attention.

5 WAYS TO TRY SINGLE-TASKING THIS WEEK

1. Mindful TV

I always recommend starting here because it’s such a good way to show how reliant we’ve become on double (or sometimes triple) screening. Just watch one show without any other devices and see how it feels.

2. Mindful walking

No headphones, no phone, just go outside, and walk. Feel your feet lifting and falling on the ground and pay attention to what’s around you. Naming what you see/smell/hear helps. This also works well going for a run.

3. Mindful shower

The shower is great because a) you’re doing it anyway and b) you’re usually uninterrupted. Notice the sensations – the water on your skin, the smell of your soap, the sound of the water running. Breathe deeply and have a moment of gratitude for clean, warm, running water. When your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the sensation of the water on your skin.

4. mindful lunch

Eat lunch by yourself without screens. Drink in the food with your eyes before you start, notice the smell, and savour each mouthful. How would you describe the taste to someone? Take a moment to be grateful for this delicious food and all the people – farmers, logistics and retail who helped bring it to your plate.

5. Mindful music

Put on a favourite song (or playlist or album if you have more time) and just sit and listen without interruption. Notice the different parts of the music, can you pick out the different instruments? Focus on the music, the vocals, the way it makes you feel, and let it wash over you.

Emma Vidgen is a meditation teacher and astrologer and says her addiction to double-screening helped her master a meditation you can do anytime, anywhere.

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