One Thing at a Time

I’ve been doing a light mindfulness practice over the past month and a half through a portfolio company of Foundry’s called Meru Health. It’s been a great experience (my first time trying to do work like this on any consistent basis) and has taught me a number of things. Perhaps the most important has been the realization of how infrequently I do only one thing. I had no idea how infrequently I was able to focus on just a single thing. In fact I almost always have several things going on at the same time – I’m walking the dogs but also Voxing. I’m on a Zoom, but also replying to a quick text. I’m taking a shower, but also planning out my day. It’s insidious. And probably not all the healthy.

I know that everyone does this to some extent or another due to the culture we live in. There’s a high expectation to accomplish and produce, and many of us base our self-value or even our identity on our daily output. The mental sharpness and high productivity we attribute to being an effective multi-tasker can be sources of great personal pride.

There have been some really interesting studies (see here and here for examples) showing that, despite what we think, humans really aren’t good multi-taskers. We’re simply not very good at switching tasks quickly and moving efficiently from one thing to the next. As we switch our attention back and forth between multiple tasks, we’re not performing any one of them optimally and we’re much more effective at each function when we focus on it individually.

As I’ve gotten into this mindfulness practice, I’ve been amazed at how often my mind wanders away from what I’m trying to focus on. I’ve had to really stop myself and actually practice doing one thing at a time. But as I do this more and more and hold myself accountable to doing one thing at a time, it’s become easier for me to focus and I’m getting better at it. I think many of us, myself included, have trained our brains to shift constantly from topic to topic or task to task. I’m hoping that as I continue my practice, focusing on one thing at a time, and one thing only, will become more natural to me.

I thought it would be helpful to flag for you all as well.