Imagine walking into a coffee shop where no one is staring at a piece of technology. Instead everyone is either engaged in conversation or silently taking in the scene around them.
Impossible? Maybe in this country. But such was my life along the Camino. For 37 days my only option was to sit down and enjoy my beverage or my meal. Instead of assuming I wanted everything in a disposable container “to go,” it was assumed I was sticking around and thus everything was served on real plates with utensils made from something other than plastic. Takeout was not even an option.
Walking into any cafe along the Camino, I rarely saw people staring into the screen of their laptops, or scrolling through the Internet on their phones. I saw something that used to be common in coffee shops: people gathered talking to each other.
I loved this single-focus mindset. It was impossible to drink coffee while walking on the Camino — they were two independent tasks, each to be enjoyed in their own right. The only multi-tasking I did was to talk while walking or eating or drinking. No takeout option meant that if one was going to eat, that’s all one could do. No bringing it home to eat in front of a television.
I was a fan of single-tasking before I left for the Camino, thanks to a blog post by Leo Babauta touting its benefits. It’s not something I do often enough — no one is perfect. Today’s technology makes many of us think we’re masters at multi-tasking. But how productive are we when we allow our work and our conversations to be interrupted by a sound indicating a text message, e-mail, or instant message has arrived? Like Pavlov’s dogs, we feel we must check it.
Today I’d like to share a few ways I try to single-task in the hope that you might try one of these yourself:
- When out to dinner with friends, I’ve taken to silencing my cell phone. Sometimes I even just leave it in the car. My sister Jessica told me of a new game she’s heard of (and tried successfully): everyone at the dining table puts their phones in a pile on the table somewhere. The first person to reach for theirs has to pay for the meal. Can you imagine God (or Buddha, or Allah, or Mother Theresa, or Gandhi for that matter) sitting down to a meal with you and then stopping to check their text messages? How would you feel?
- I turn off my e-mail. If I’m working on a project, the screen is not open nor do I get any indications an e-mail has come in. Same with instant messaging. If something is really pressing, the sender can find me another way. (And, let’s be honest, how much of what comes in via e-mail or IM is that pressing?)
- Does anyone remember when phones used to have cords? When talking on the phone, I could only go so far depending on how long the cord was. Now, I can go all over the house and get all sorts of tasks “done” while I’m on the phone with my mother. I’ve been known to prepare dinner, fold laundry, and even sweep the floor thanks to the ability to wear a headset and go “hands-free.” But my hands were not free at all — I engaged them in other tasks. Does this remind anyone of the Martha and Mary story from the Bible? Well, I lost my headset a couple weeks ago. I think it was meant to be. Now I’m consciously trying to just sit down when I’m talking on the phone — to focus on what the person on the other end is saying.
Single-tasking allows me to be more productive at work, and more engaged when I’m with friends or family. Try it for yourself. Let me know how it goes. And for those of you looking for something to give up for Lent, how about multi-tasking?
Have you tried single-tasking? Tell us about it. Do you have any single-tasking tips?