By Leo Babauta
I have a confession to make: despite writing books on the subject, along with numerous posts, I haven’t been single-tasking lately.
I’ve returned to multi-tasking and distraction.
I’d like to blame my smart phone (I long for the days of my sweet dumb phone), but in all honesty I constantly switch browser tabs too. I’ve been pulled by the allure of so many interesting things to read on the Internet, email, messaging my family, always something to check or read or respond to.
As of today, I’m returning to single-tasking.
Why? Because I think giving in to constant switch and distraction is a way to run away. It feels busy and productive, but it’s an avoidance. Not just an avoidance of important tasks, but of whatever boredom or bad feelings I might be having in the moment.
So here are the rules I’m going to try to follow:
- One browser tab open. I want to focus on reading one thing, responding to one email at a time, doing one task in my browser at a time. I realize that I might have to open multiple tabs to work on something, and that’s fine, but if I have tabs open that don’t have anything to do with my current task, I’ll bookmark them for later, add to Instapaper, or add the task to my to-do list.
- Know what I’m focusing on. When I open a tab, I have to consciously pause and think about what I’m trying to accomplish. That might be looking up some info, or writing something, or answering an email … whatever it is, I have to try to pause and make sure I’m being conscious about it.
- Read to completion. Unless there’s an urgent interruption, if I open an article to read, I have to decide whether I want to invest the time to read it right now. That means giving it my full attention, and reading to the end (if possible — unexpected interruptions are fine). If I don’t really want to read this article to completion, I’ll save it for later or just close it.
- One app on my phone at a time. Just like browser tabs, I often have multiple apps open on my phone, and I switch between them often. I’m going to try to close my phone except when I consciously want to do something on it — send a message, reply to emails, read something. And I’ll only have one app open whenever possible.
- Be mindful of interruptions & switching. I think my mind is easily distracted, so I’m going to try to practice noticing when I’m about to switch, and make a conscious decision to either follow or not follow that urge to switch. It’s OK to switch, if I’m ready to leave what I’m doing and focus on this new thing instead. And it’s OK to be interrupted (by a call, my kids, my wife, etc.), but I’d like to try to make a conscious note that I’m switching my attention, leave behind what I’m doing, and give my full attention to whoever is calling for it (without resentment that they’re interrupting me). Now, I realize I’m not going to be perfect at this (I was interrupted as I was writing this paragraph, btw), but I’ll try to practice is when I remember.
- Consciously close my computer & phone. I don’t need to always be working, always be distracted, always be checking. Sometimes, I can consciously close things for awhile, read a book, go for a walk (without headphones), do something with a loved one. I’ll try to consciously tell myself, “OK, digital-free time for the next 30 minutes” (or hour, or two hours, or whatever).
These aren’t hard and fast rules, but things to shoot for. I will fail at them often, but I’m going to try to follow them for at least a week, and hopefully longer.
I’m not doing this to be more productive, more focused, more disciplined, more perfect. I just want to explore mindfulness and consciousness, and not avoiding by distraction. Wish me luck!