Mindfulness – How to Stay Sane in Our Crazy, Multi-tasking World

water dropYou’re at work, trying to complete a project on time.  The phone rings, and you stop what you’re doing to answer it.  Your email chimes to let you know another email has arrived in your Inbox.  You sneak a quick look and then see another email that you forgot to answer that needs immediate attention. You start typing a response to the email while you’re still trying to carry on a conversation on the phone. Then someone walks in to your office to ask a question, and you cut your phone call short to answer their question, leaving your email half-finished. After that conversation is over, you stop for a minute, certain that you have forgotten something, but can’t remember what it is.

Does this sound familiar?  It happens everywhere, and not just at work.

The downside of multitasking

As Wikipedia describes it, “Human multitasking is the apparent performance by an individual of handling more than one task at the same time. The term is derived from computer multitasking……. Multitasking can result in time wasted due to human context switching and apparently causing more errors due to insufficient attention.”

Wasted time and increased errors are not the only negative consequences of this practice.  There is so much constantly vying for our attention that we have lost the ability to focus and really pay attention to one thing at a time.  Our minds are scattered, our relationships are suffering, and our bodies are stressed.  And if you felt a stress reaction happening in your body as you read the first paragraph, imagine what is happening during the real thing.  What’s a person to do?

The Mindfulness Plan for Staying Sane

  • Just breathe – When you start to feel your body begin to tense and react to stress, stop and take several deep, cleansing breaths.  This can help break the cycle of stress, and bring your focus back to the moment.
  • One thing at a time.  For example, if you’re in the midst of an email and the phone rings, let it ring.  That’s what voice mail is for.
  • If someone interrupts you while you’re working on a project, if you can, politely let them know that you’ll get back to them as soon as you find a good stopping point.  At the very least, ask them to wait a moment while you make a note of what you were doing when you were interrupted.
  • Slow down.  You can’t focus on one thing at a time if you are traveling at the speed of sound.
  • Stop, look and listen.  If you are having a conversation with someone, make that your priority. Look at them, listen to them.  Connect.  Don’t try to read your email at the same time, or talk to them over your shoulder as you’re walking out of the room.
  • Pay attention – your body, mind and spirit provide you with cues that you are not focused and in the moment.  Notice what happens to you throughout the day – is your mind racing or scattered?  Is your body often tense?  Do you feel fidgety?  Stress reactions are often good cues that you are everywhere but NOW.
  • Give yourself a time out.  And more than once a day.  We go, go, go, and by the end of the day, can’t remember where we went, went, went.  Build some time into your day to just BE, and when you are, engage all of your senses.
  • Consider learning mindfulness meditation.  There are many free, short, guided mindfulness meditations available on the Internet, including iTunes.

Please don’t miss the NOW – it’s the only time that really matters.

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2 Comments

  1. Love this post. So relevant, with lessons that are so simple–yet, for people like me, hard-learned! I think there is definitely something to be said about the negative results of multitasking. I have found myself wondering about this a lot lately, and whether it is really that worthwhile of a trait in the workplace or at home.

    • You’re welcome – I’m glad it was helpful! I think this is a real dilemma in the workplace, as multi-tasking is so highly valued. You find it everywhere in job descriptions, i.e. “must be able to handle a variety of tasks simultaneously”, along with my other favorite, “must be able to work in a fast-paced environment”. frequently translated to – “stressful”. The challenge in my mind can be to develop workable boundaries to protect yourself and continue to be effective and productive in your job.

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