Saturday, August 04, 2012

Multi versus Single Tasking

I am a product of the Superwoman era.  We were leaving the 50’s and entering a time when women were no longer expected to marry and stay at home and take care of the husband and children.  We were burning our bras in the 70’s and in our 3 piece ‘dressed for success’ suits in the 80’s.  We could have it all – career and family.  In fact, not only could we have it all, we were expected to want it all!  Thus led to the idea of multi-tasking, of which women were naturals at it.  After all, we had centuries of practice.  We kept house, garden, had a job outside the home and raised the children.  However, in the 90’s it was given a label and called multi-tasking:  the art of doing more than one thing at a time in order to cram more into our days, to be more ‘productive’.

Now the tide has turned and it’s been found that multi-tasking actually is probably not as productive as it was thought to be.  Not only that, but it also leads to a lot of stress.  So single-tasking is now the thing.  I am a ‘tasking’ straddler.  I think there is a time and place for both.

Multi-tasking is great for brainless activities, like watching TV and folding clothes or doing the dishes.  But single tasking is the way to go if you need things to get done and done with a purpose and well.  However, I find years of trying to cram many things into a little time is a habit that is hard to break.

I am enjoying reading Leo Babauta’s book, The Power of Less.  Based on the principle of less is more, Babauta gives guidelines for defining what you want in life and how to achieve those goals, all the while letting in a sense of calm into your life.

the power of less  I discovered his website, Zen Habits,  several months ago and have enjoyed reading through the articles.  He reinforces several of the principles I have picked up on with Buddhism and meditation and doing things with intention and purpose.  He advocates single tasking over multitasking.

Now I will be the first to admit I am not going to get all ‘zen’ on sweeping the floor or dusting furniture….but then again.  I know after I sweep when the dogs and cats have tracked hair and dirt around all day, there is a sense of well-being that it is clean and picked up.  He is also a big advocate of ritual and routine.  Love me some routine!  Not that I won’t crawl out of it (this weekend an example), but I do like knowing when and where and planning ahead.  There is a comfort in knowing I get up at 4am (well, maybe not that much comfort at that time of the morning) and I immediately take the dogs out.  Then fix coffee, breakfast, get ready for work, etc.  It’s stability and a mindless mindfulness.

My life is changing over the next few months. I am now, for all purposes, an empty nester.  After being a single mom, that is a real adjustment (but I think I am handling it well!)  At the end of March I am leaving a job I have worked in for 33 years.  And while I will be working somewhere else, I will have to determine a new routine.  School will still be there, but I will have a certain amount of liberty that if I don’t want to do it completely online I can go on campus if I wish.  I will also become a grandmother for the first time.  And while they live 2.5 hours away, he is a Marine and is gone a certain amount of time.  Having been a single mom, I know it’s not easy on your own.  So I want to be available if needed to lend a hand or support.

So I am in the process of deciding what my most important goals are in my life and focus of those goals.  Babauta touts doing small tasks every day, but have those tasks lead back to your ultimate goals.  I have narrowed down ‘everything’, to the following so far:

Writing – personal and a project I am working on with a group

Health and Home – making my home a refuge and a serene place to be and watching what I eat (cutting down on sugar) and exercising more

Family – staying connected on a real basis to both of my daughters, even though neither one is close

Social – volunteer work at the animal shelter and ‘getting out’ more.  If I don’t watch myself, I find myself sitting at home and doing nothing.  Not to mean I am going to be a party animal, but go see a movie, go to the knitting group, etc.

Creativity – sew, knit, photography and art

School – working toward my Masters in Fine Arts/Creative Writing

The good thing is that I have defined what I am really interested in.  The bad thing is that it seems like a huge list.  And it’s hard to acknowledge I can’t do it all.  I would love to spend all my time creating art, but I can’t and not accomplish the things I want to accomplish.  But when I look at what I am spending my time on now, there is a lot of time just sitting at the computer playing solitaire and mindless surfing.  Not to say they don’t have their place, but not on a daily basis and not for hours.  Now my task is to add more definition to my list and break out tasks which can be done in small chunks.  For example, on the health/home area, I want to plan menus and then shop from those menus.  Not only will I save money, but I can focus on meals that are healthy and pleasing.  It also will eliminate that “what’s for dinner” feeling as I grab something I really don’t want to eat.   There is a new indoor swimming pool opening only 5 miles from me and I want to go swim at least 2-3 times a week.  I also have a huge map now of the walkways in my county.  I want to walk on all the greenways and take the dogs with me for exercise for all of us.

My plans are getting there.  They are becoming more concrete every day.  School starts again in 10 days and I will be busy with work and school and loving every minute of it.  And refining my goals.

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