zen habits : breathe

The Universe of a Single Task

By Leo Babauta

In the neverending rush of our day, what does one little task matter?

It is everything.

We speed through each task as if it’s nothing, looking already to the next task, until we collapse at the end of the day, exhausted. Having spent a day cranking through nothings.

That’s one approach, and I’ve done it many times. But here’s another: make each task its own universe, its own specialness. Then every moment of your day is ridiculously important and wonderful and powerful.

Here’s a process for one single task, whatever you have in front of you right now:

  1. Pause and consider. Why are you doing the task? Because it’s on your list, because someone sent it to you? Or because it will make a difference in the world, help make someone’s life better? Is it a compassionate act? Is it part of a project that matters? Know why you’re doing something, and then imbue the task with that intention.
  2. Notice your fear. Sometimes, we resist a task, procrastinate on it. I mean, not you, of course. Most other people procrastinate. This procrastination is rooted in fear, and so the trick is to see the fear, to feel it in your body, to accept it as part of you and not “wrong”. Then to give it compassion, and act anyway, in the moment. Don’t let your mind run away from the task.
  3. Make the task your universe. Have you ever been reading an article (like this one) and had the urge to switch to something else? This urge pushes itself on us, all day, because of the nagging feeling that there’s something else we should be doing, something else more important, more fun, that we might be missing out on. Instead, forget about those something elses. Make this one task your everything, and give it the space to fill up your entire mind. Put yourself fully in this one space, and pretend there’s nothing else.
  4. Stay with the task. Even with this task becoming your universe, there will be the urge to run away. This is fear again. Don’t let it rule you. Stick with the task, even just for a couple more minutes. Be curious about it: notice its qualities, wonder how it will go if you stay with it, don’t think you know everything about it. Pay attention, and see what it’s like.
  5. Bow when you’re done. Don’t rush off to the next task, but instead pause. Create a tiny bit of space before you move on to the next thing. Wash your bowl. Check the task off your list. Breathe, and see how your body is feeling. Now consider what task you should do next, not just because it’s in your inbox or task list, but because it matters.


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