When I play with my granddaughters, it’s almost like a form of meditation. I tune out the rest of the world and the only thing that matters is the activity we’re engaged in at that moment. Whether we’re down on the floor, out in the garden, or sitting at their craft table, I get down to their level and focus all of my attention on the two of them. The results are amazing. I feel energized and refreshed—truly in the moment. It’s such a great stress releaser. And of course, my granddaughters love my undivided attention.
What a contrast to my “other” life – when I’m constantly reviewing my “to-do” list in my head or trying to do three things at once. A few years ago I began a practice I call “uni-tasking” to remind myself to focus my attention on just one thing at a time. It’s a revolutionary concept for today’s multi-tasking culture. We’ve become such a nation of multi-taskers that we pride ourselves on how many things we can do at once. Maria Shriver is so good at it she’s been called the “Queen of Multi-taskers” by her staff. But when was the last time you heard someone brag about doing just one thing at a time?
Here’s how uni-tasking works: When I take a walk, I leave my iPod at home and just notice the colors of the trees, the sounds of the birds and the feel of the wind on my face. I drive my car with the radio and my cell phone off. I drink my morning tea without reading the paper or checking my email. It’s not as easy as it sounds because we’ve made a habit of trying to be efficient by doing several tasks at once. But studies have shown that the brain takes four times longer to process information when we multi-task.
Doing just one thing at a time teaches the practice of mindfulness and helps focus your attention on the task at hand. It’s not only a path to meditation but also a valuable practice with multiple benefits. When you eat your meal at the table without the television on, for example, you notice when you’re full. When you listen to your friend on the phone without checking your email, you may hear what she’s really trying to tell you. Uni-tasking helps you become more focused and intentional.
I encourage you to try uni-tasking once a day, even if it’s only for five minutes. You’ll feel a refreshing sense of clarity in the moment that you might want to cultivate. You may even notice your breathing deepen and your muscles relax. Multi-tasking is a hard habit to break so it helps to place some post-it notes with the word “UNI-TASK” around your house, in your car, and on your computer screen.
You may discover a new sense of spaciousness in your life as you learn to savor just one thing at a time. And what better thing to savor than those precious grandchildren of yours?