Busted Halo

Rebecca Gallo is trying to put into practice the lessons she learned while walking The Camino. Follow along as she continues her spiritual journey — whatever that might mean.

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February 15th, 2013

Letting Go of a ‘To Go’ Lifestlye


giving-up-to-goImagine a life without hearing the words, “Is that for here or to go?” No coffee to go. No drive-thrus. No take-out containers.

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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?)
  3. 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? 



The Author : Rebecca Gallo
Since 2012, Rebecca Gallo has walked the Camino de Santiago three times -- twice on a strict budget, and a third time traveling a little more luxuriously (private rooms with sheets instead of hostels with a sleeping bag). She enjoyed sharing her first journey and subsequent reflections with Busted Halo readers. Other tales of her adventures can be found at RenaissanceRebecca.com.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Erin McClain

    Thank you so much for such an inspirational and thought-provoking article! I thought I was the technological “lone ranger” for predominantly leaving my dastardly cell phone in the car! Sometimes I get messages and realize days later that someone called. I have debated getting rid of my 10 year-old landline, but still enjoy laying on the couch and talking to friends for what can be hours. I visited Santiago de Compostela back in 1981, but have only recently been exposed to the pilgrimage via the movie “The Way.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/graphoman Júlia Bustya

    Great that you mentioned Leo Babauta, I wanted to recommend Focus after reading the first few lines. :-) (For others who may not know it: it’s a free e-book with lots of thoughts & ideas on why and how to single task & focus.) Another great tool might be this mindmap (probably derived from the book, too): http://static.learningfundamentals.com.au/wp-content/uploads/Focus.jpg

    • Rebecca

      Thanks for sharing all of this Julia. Loved the mindmap – reminiscent of a lot of Leo’s writings.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_U74H74VSHMC6OKLQNUSAPMLWPE Bella

    This is the way I live my life. My cell phone stays in the car, always, unless it needs to be charged, then it comes into the house for a day. If it rings I do not answer it, as I have a landline phone for home. When speaking on the landline, I sit down and talk to the person. If the person on the other end is muti tasking I simply say, “you seem to be busy, we can talk at another time”. They either agree, or are embarassed by their rudeness. I will not sit at a table to eat with somewho has their phone out. I will ask that that they put it away, since this is our time to share. I am an older person, not ancient, but old enough to remember what it was like before technology took over. Neither my husband, nor I are comsumed with checking email, phones etc. If we are not going to be engaged in conversation we would much rather just enjoy our suroundings or a good book. Young people need to open their eyes and see what they are missing. I often wonder if technology is at the root of fewer marriages. While it is great to play chess on the computer with people from all over the world, it is not so great for the one who is sitting in the room with you.

    • Rebecca

      Ah Bella, you sound as if you come from another time — a time I once knew as well. When I was in college, it was only the “computer nerds” who had cell phones. The rest of us thought, “Wow — they really think they’re cool walking around talking on the phone for everyone else to hear?” Who would have known what the future held…

      Everything, of course, has its pluses and minuses. Skype allowed one of my students to keep in touch with his father while his father was serving in Afghanistan. And for my cousin to communicate with his mother while he was serving. It allowed my parents to “see” their first grandchild much more often than if it had not existed.

      Balance is all I ask. Recognize the benefits, recognize the negatives. Change accordingly.

  • Patricia

    How appropriate for Lent! I read an article yesterday about people giving up social media for Lent and some of the comment made me think about when you wanted to talk to someone it was either by phone or in person. Oh how did we survive without instantly messaging, text etc? There is something so much nicer about a person to person conversation! I am happy to see articles from you again I followed your Camino walk. Your topics are interesting and timely, plus you have a great writing style.

    • Rebecca

      Thank you for the compliments Patricia. I am happy to be back writing again.

      With regards to how we existed prior to text and IM: I was recently invited to a party where the rule was no communication about the festivities could be made using the internet. Everyone had to be personally (as in, physically in person) invited by someone else who knew about it. Loved that idea.

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