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sticking a broom up my arse and sweeping the floorWomen are often told that they are superior to men because men can’t multi-task. One can analyse this well-worn cliché on so many levels:

– for reality check: stay at home parents often seem to be juggling children, housework, working from home and having a social life (see picture!). Do they succeed at this because they haven’t any choice or because of their gender.

– for accuracy: do men not multi-task just as much, maybe in different ways?

– is this part of the primitive “women have babies, men kill animals” old mind? Or is this part of the “Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars” bollocks?

– for excuses: is this not just a way of saying “women, do all the work because you’re faster, men, let’s just sit and read the paper so we can focus”?

Is multi-tasking so superior to single-tasking?

Should we compliment people making difficult phone calls while they’re driving or should we wonder where their attention is?

If we try and do six things at once, do we actually get them done any quicker or better?

Do we actually get any pleasure out of eating a sandwich while walking to work or do we just shovel it in as fast as possible?

Mindfulness tell us to concentrate on one thing at a time, to complete a task without thinking about the following task or the previous one, to focus on the now.

What does single-tasking mean in the real world?

Working from home means that I can experiment. Having multiple clients means that I have to work out how not to run around trying to please everyone and forgetting about myself, balancing that with actually getting the work done.

I had used  a timer just when I was charging by the hour so that I would be accurate. Now I use it for all desk work. I close down Twitter, emails, other social media and I focus on what I’m doing for an hour. I will turn the sound on my mobile off so I don’t hear notifications. Then I’ll load it all back up again and spend 5-10 minutes catching up, with my mind darting here and there as different ideas catch me, before settling back down again to another hour’s concentration.

This sounds regimented but during that hour I get twice as much work done, which saves me time to do other things and I’m more aware of how much time I spend just getting distracted (Twitter is great for that). This doesn’t mean I don’t lose myself surfing the Internet but I’m much more aware that I’m doing it. It also means that if work is done, then I can give myself permission to surf without feeling any guilt and enjoy it more.

Learning to not always answer the phone when it rings is a hard one and it’s taken me a long time to not run around looking for a handset if I’m in the middle of something. It took a conversation with BFF1 eight years ago (or so) to get me moving on this thought. If it’s important they’ll leave a message or ring back later. If it’s not then I’ve saved myself an interruption. Cold callers get very short shrift from me on the doorstep. I have long ago signed up to the Telephone and Mail Preference Services, which do stop most drivel.

Other aspects of single-tasking I find more difficult. While I no longer try and eat and work at the same time, I still tend to eat in front of the TV or while reading something. I pay my food more attention than I used to, but maybe not as much as I could.

So, the idea is, and it’s an idea to keep practising rather than a rule that can be broken, do one thing at a time. Think about what you’re doing, while you’re doing it. It’s easier said than done but the gradual wakening of awareness helps make life more fulfilling even without changing what it is that you are doing.

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