My mind moves at a mile a minute. I sort of think I have some undiagnosed disorder, because of how quickly my brain jumps from topic to topic. Sometimes I jumble my words because my brain has already moved on to the next sentence before I’ve finished the one I’m on.
I’ve written before about multitasking, and how it’s nearly a religion in the “productivity first” culture we’ve got. As I’ve said, I’ve found for me that multitasking on projects just leads to lower quality work all around. And yet, I’m engaged in a different sort of multitasking all the time that until now has gone unchecked.
Of the thousands of small actions we perform every day, like brushing our teeth, or eating lunch, often I have found that I’ve moved on to another small task without completing the previous one fully. For example, I’ll start making breakfast, then move to make coffee. Or I’ll eat, and then put my dishes in the sink to return to later. Or I’ll do the dishes, but then leave them out to dry.
Of course, some sense of autopilot is necessary. If you were totally present for every blink you did, you’d have no energy to think about anything else. And some of the best thinking I do comes from wandering. However, leaving a lot of these tasks unfinished only makes me more distracted or anxious, or gives me an excuse to procrastinate later.
I’d like to try and reduce the number of things looming over me at all times. When I sit down to write, or journal, or study, I don’t want to be thinking about how I haven’t finished vacuuming. I want to try and be more absorbed in the moment. I don’t want to even give myself the excuse to get up because I haven’t taken the garbage out yet.
A lot of this depends on how you break down tasks into their components, but that’s okay. It’s just about oversight. It requires a bit of planning. Think about making a meal. One of the most important skills a cook can learn is timing; how to time each cooking item to make the plate ready all at once. The less pieces you try and juggle, the easier this becomes.
The oddest part about this is how easy most of these tasks I put off are. How little time they take. It takes 10 minutes or less to wash and dry the dishes. Maybe a half hour to vacuum my apartment. Yet, by putting them off, they seem bigger than they are. Everything seems more difficult before you start.
One of the best tips I’ve gotten for studying is not to set too much on your plate. Don’t think you have to study something for 2 hours every night. That sounds daunting, and the more intimidating you make it seem, the less likely you are to do it. Just sit down with the resolve to study for 10 minutes. That’s easy. And once you’ve done 10 minutes, you can do another 10 more.
All tasks can be broken down into smaller activities that take you a few minutes to do. And doing these all in a row makes whatever you’ve set to accomplish seem that much easier, which is the same as making it more achievable. You don’t always have to think of the whole mountain; just today’s hike. Of course, you want the mountain on your horizon, but thinking about the whole thing in the context of a day will make you less likely to ever embark.
I’m going to try leaving as few things unfinished as possible. Getting out of bed, then making it. Making breakfast, eating, cleaning the dishes, and putting them away. Sorting my desk and dusting. If I can group items together, I can complete them all at once, leaving less to do later, and leaving me more free in the moment to focus on what I want to.