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Full Presence Stomps Multitasking

full presence or multitasking

In life is full presence in the moment better than multitasking? My greatest happiness and best accomplishments have emerged from all those times when I have been fully present. The gap between the knowing and the doing is what brings me here to share my thoughts with you.

Is it even possible to be completely in the moment in this madly changing and swiftly moving world? The explosion of information age is anything but slowing down and we naturally want to partake on this exciting journey, on all of it and at the same time. Consuming as much as possible, doing as many things as possible, and being as many versions of ourselves as we can creatively think of.

With all due respect to over-achievement and over-execution on our plans and our dreams in record time, there may be a better way to approach our life than by doing it all simultaneously by multitasking .

The challenge: Being fully present instead of multitasking

I subscribe to the theory that it is better to do things well in life, remarkably well, and to give them our all than to not do them at all. It is better to be selective about our goals, our interests, our relationships and our commitments to others than to submit to the chaos of multitasking. To do things to the best of our abilities, we must be fully present for all things.

Being fully present takes commitment, awareness, and conviction. It is not easy to do. Why do you need to be fully present if partially present will suffice? Why all the effort and work when less will do?

Let’s start by debunking assumptions: I consider these 3 general assumptions about super productivity to be false:

Assumption #1: Multitasking is Productive and Efficient.

Starting multiple tasks is a piece of cake but dividing your attention causes you to slip and make mistakes and that often costs you a lot more time later. Your mind is not a piece of clay. You cannot divide it into equal chunks and set them to various tasks on auto-pilot. Your mind is fluid like the ocean and you cannot predict its ebbs and flows when you divvy up your focus and attention back and forth. Single-tasking gets things done faster over a long period of time and almost always, with higher quality and better results than multitasking.

Assumption #2: Sometimes mediocrity is good enough.

An excellent life coach once told us in a seminar that every impression counts in the workplace and in life. She compared our overall impression to a large empty glass and each action on our part, large or small, a stone thrown into the glass. A black stone for a good impression and a red one for a poor impression. Every stone counts. Each stone adds to the glass and the full glass is the complete impression of who we are.

Mediocrity may suffice on the surface but if you compromise your own standards or true qualities in some situations in order to save time or money or effort in others, you will be adding red stones into your jar and at some point, they will taint your image.

Assumption # 3: People don’t notice your shortcuts.

You may never hear anyone complain or make mention of it to you; yet it would be naive to conclude that people fail to notice when you put forth less than your best. These people could be your coworkers, colleagues, peers, friends, family, fans or subscribers in the blogging world and their silence might not always mean support and satisfaction.

Every time you take a shortcut by spreading your attention too thin by multitasking, you may disappoint a fan here, a friend there. That may seem negligible at first but it is not a good trend to continue. You can hold yourself accountable and responsible for your best by focusing on each task fully and completely because it deserves your best.

Being fully present for your life is just one of many advanced life skills you need, but it is a quintessential quality to your success.

The Self-Awareness: What is your level of presence?

If you are not fully present in your own life, you lose your authenticity over time and your true potential hardly has time to shine before the next task calls your name. Often, you may not even realize your lack of presence and focus.

Where does your self-awareness lie in these situations?

Examples of what it means to be FULLY present:

  1. Listening intently, fully, completely to a speaker as an audience member or to a friend over tea.
  2. Reading the entirety of an email, an article, or a blog post without interruption of unrelated thoughts.
  3. Starting a task or solving a problem from start to finish, giving it your full focus, attention and best effort, regardless of importance.
  4. Talking on the phone to a friend with happy news or a colleague in need of your advice with all of your attention and consideration and care, reflecting on what they are explaining and responding in kind.

Examples of what it means to be PARTIALLY present:

  1. While listening to speaker or your close friend, you are also thinking of what you are going to say in response and how you will react to the topic or situation.
  2. While reading a blog post, answering the phone or a text message, remembering to pay a bill (and proceeding to do so), half-listening to your spouse / partner in the background and checking your email at least three times.
  3. Starting a task, and not even half-way through, start two more. Juggle them. Go back and forth, try to keep all of them straight, spend time re-focusing as you transition between them.
  4. Talking on the phone to a friend or a colleague, whispering the reassuring words, while your mind wanders to all the drama of your own life.

So what do you think? Do you fall victim to any of the examples in the second set?

The Experiment: Is it worth your while to change?

For a course of one week, experiment with two methods: (1) being fully present and (2) multitasking.

  • Start the week with anywhere from 5-10 major tasks or problems or challenges.
  • Choose tasks and problems which require various degrees of attention, focus, interaction with others, and levels of effort and time.
  • Tell no one about the experiment (particularly yourself for we often deceive ourselves!!)
  • Examples could be: Listening to a speech, having a long conversation with your partner or friend, solving a problem on your website, creating a better strategy for your financial freedom, helping someone else with a problem, planning a long vacation, taking a dance class, you name it!

First part of the week: Decide on your tasks, start the first task, do a little, start the second one, do a little, and start the third one and do a little, so on and so forth. Then juggle back and forth between them as necessary and as your motivation dictates, until done. That’s called multitasking. When finished, roughly estimate the quality and amount of time taken for all your efforts. Then set them aside.

Second part of the week: Decide on your tasks; then attack them one at a time. With the first one, focus your entire attention on it, do not spare an ounce of effort and more importantly any thought to the other pending tasks. Think, focus, and be truly present for the one in front of you. Desire to complete it well. Repeat for other tasks. Measure the same attributes upon finish.

Compare results and decide which method lent itself to your best results. If the first method wins, read on to sharpen those skills. If the second method, read on just to humor me.

The Change: Developing the skill to be Fully Present in Life

What is this craving to find distractions at every turn? Our minds seek instant gratification and our society and technology offer it in abundance. A wandering mind can escape work and concentration. Multitasking gives us the illusion of real productivity at times. It takes incredible self-discipline to develop a mindset of being fully present.

Methods to reinforce being fully present to yourself:

1. Do not feed the desire for distractions. Imagine being on a diet and resisting bad food at first. Consciously apply the knowledge until it becomes second nature.
2. Start small. Work without distraction for 10 minutes, then 20 then work up to an hour. Reward yourself with small milestones. Be patient with yourself.
3. Train yourself. After making tiny progress, make it habitual. Use self-discipline to develop the habit of focusing on one task at a time. Attack problems and your to-do list in single-mode.
4. Let the results fill up your motivation. It’s a cycle that can feed itself. If you see that you do your best when totally focused and fully present, you will want more of that outcome so you change your behavior to enable more success.

In the end, life happens to all of us. Urgent matters come up and naturally pull us away from important tasks. Outside factors change our plans and our directions. And we sometimes need to juggle and manage a million things at once. That, my friends, is life, as we all know. The point I am making is that multitasking will not allow you  to achieve your very best, it is best to be fully present at the task at hand.

Results speak for themselves. You make the choice.

farnoosh brockThis article was written by Farnoosh Brock. She has a love for personal expression, writing, reading, traveling, juicing, and Argentine tango. Farnoosh explores all these elements and more on her fantastic blog Prolific Living. Please take some time to visit her, she is a lot of fun.

Do you prefer multitasking or single tasking?
Do you feel there is a time and place for both?
Is it a challenge for you to focus on one thing at a time?
The lines are open!

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Brain Games

37 Comments

  1. Hulbert Lee April 30, 2010 Reply

    I’m not sure if it’s The Law of Attraction or what, but I was just at your blog reading about your iPhone post, then stumbled my way here after that and here you are Farnoosh! Yesterday, something horrible happened to me when I was told about someone’s negative intention of me. I was thinking about the past which made me miserable. Then I started to listen to Eckhart Tolle and Oprah. He talked about presence and being fully aware in the moment. I didn’t expect to read a blog post like that, but I woke up, and I just read about it here!

    Anyway, I just wanted to get that out. I agree with this post though. In a world where new technology and information comes at us in full blast, it’s hard not to get distracted. It’s easy to go try to do multiple things at once in the fear of not getting things done on time. But that only leads to mediocrity in our work. Being fully present not allows everything to feel more alive, but the quality of life seems more refreshing as well. It’s not the easiest thing to do with hundreds of thoughts passing through our minds, but it definitely allows us to be more productive and improves the quality of our work. Good job Farnoosh and thanks Jonathan for sharing this guest post!

    • Hulbert, I see you are following me…hmmm ;)! Hey I think you should totally let go of the person with the negative intention. Easier said than done for sure, especially since I do not know the circumstances, but it’s best to not dwell on those things in life. Often we waste time and then look back to kick ourselves for lost time (prime example=moi) so be smart and let it go. You can find so much more happiness and peace in the right places, especially inward. And I am so happy this guest post (and Oprah!) helped you. Jonathan was far too kind to invite me and I am thrilled to be featured here.

  2. Lance April 30, 2010 Reply

    Jonathan,
    What a wonderful guest you have here today!!

    Farnoosh,
    It’s great to see you here, and touching upon something I believe very strongly in (not that I get it “right” all of the time…). I really like to think of it as single-tasking. And to me, that means that I am fully engaged in ONE activity at a time – and when I am, I can more fully be in that moment (especially as it relates to the task at hand). When I do this, I am so much more engaged and (I would like to think) more fully giving my best. When I’m not, I very much feel that mediocrity can quickly creep in.

    And – this isn’t always easy. There are so many competing interests out there – and it can quickly feel like we are letting down one interest when we focus solely on something else. Truthfully, though, if we are giving our best – then that is a great place to be.

    Great article, and great reminders for all of us!

    • Lance, my friend, you hit the right key (which I should have used more ;)) – “Engaged” – we are so totally engaged when we do one thing at a time. When we lose focus, the engagement is immediately reduced and the full impact of our effort is also reduced.
      Not easy at all. Especially with my fancy iPhone. Tell me about it! But seriously, it seems like we are compromising whereas we are prioritizing so we can give our all to everything, they just have to all get in line! :)

  3. timethief April 30, 2010 Reply

    Well said Farnoosh. I also try to be in the now moment and gully immersed in what I’m doing. When I’m successful I experience the flow that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes so wonderfully well.

    However, the reality is that I am self employed and some of the time when I’m online and blogging I must be available to answer the phone and deal with customers and clients. I must also run the programs required for my contract work in the background and the alternative is to give up my blogging and I’m not prepared to do that. You see when I attempted to blog only at night and not during the working hours of my day I found that I couldn’t do it. I’m not a night person. So now I am back to multitasking part of the day and set aside the tasks I really want to focus my full attention on to be done during the lulls in the ebb and flow of ours business.

    If this were a perfect world and I had no need to make an income then I would be following your advice to the letter. Thanks for sharing your wisdom. I value it.

    • timethief, but this is a perfect world, no? At least, that’s what I tell myself.
      I totally hear you and I multi-task myself very often. My point in this article was to argue that when we focus fully on any task, we do our absolute best and our true potential shows. In reality, you are right in that things happen. So perhaps we can set aside a select number of tasks and dedicate our time and effort truly to them. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for your candor!

      • timethief April 30, 2010 Reply

        Hi Farnoosh,
        Your point is one I agree 100% with. If we aren’t focused we can spend our days in a frenzy of activity, but achieve very little, because we simply aren’t concentrating our effort on the things that matter the most.

        I try my best to schedule things so I’m focusing only on one task as a time. I put my time management plan into practice and when all goes well, I can slip into to the zone or into what Csikszentmihalyi calls the flow experience.

        When I’m in the flow, I am far more creative as I am functioning at a higher level and I produce a much higher quality work. Best of all I am satisfied with and even proud of what I have accomplished.

        Best wishes,
        TiTi

        • TiTi, I love the use of expression “in the flow” -(are you a yoga girl by any chance?:))! – and in the zone. For instance, sometimes I get in the writing zone when my husband is practicing (with errors mind you!) his Chopin piece on the piano. I don’t even realize I am in the zone until he suddenly stops to go get something and I find myself yelling at him for interrupting my flow….Really, I know what you mean. Here’s to a very fruitful summer for all of us. Best wishes to you (and by the way, I am a new subscriber at TimeThief to learn more from you)!

          • timethief May 1, 2010 Reply

            Yes, Farnoosh I have been a yoga practitioner and mediator since I was in college and I have also taught both. :) I visited your blog and I loved it! so I became a subscriber to it too. I’m looking forward to getting to know you and your blog.

            Namaste
            TiTi

  4. Stephen Mills April 30, 2010 Reply

    Hi Farnoosh, this was wonderful advice, but I had to chuckle at this:

    “Start the week with anywhere from 5-10 major tasks or problems or challenges.”

    That’s why you are distracted! Try starting the week with just a couple of major challenges. Oh my 5-10 “major” challenges?

    I’m pretty sure I don’t have your energy
    If I started the week with 10 major challenges, I would just give up and go to the beach :-)

    • Uhm. Yeah, I am so hopelessly overambitious. No wonder I am exhausted at the end of the day. I get up at 4:30am and I am never done by end of the day!!….Ok, so to your point, yes set a more realistic goal but the exercise can still be applied, right? :)! The beach sounds wonderful regardless…..

  5. Armen Shirvanian April 30, 2010 Reply

    Hi Farnoosh.

    People sure do notice when others are half-doing or half-listening. They can tell that something is missing. When I do something with half-effort, I always leave out something that gives it away.

    It is worth it to do one thing completely rather than two things halfway, but we often feel better in the short-term with having completed two things halfway.

    Working for 20 minutes without distraction sure is tough. It sounds not too hard but there is such a large source of distractions available. Fitting image with the article.

  6. Armen, you said it with such clarity: Doing one thing well rather than two things with half-effort. And yes people do notice. I always make a small mistake that shows my attention was divided (and believe me I have tried to focus on 6 or 7 things at a time). The distractions cannot rule us and we have to be accountable for our own work and results….thanks for reading!

  7. Steven Aitchison April 30, 2010 Reply

    Hi Jonathan, Great choice for a guest poster.

    Hi Farnoosh, you’re getting everywhere just now :)

    This is an excellent article with some great advice. I particularly liked
    “it is better to do things well in life, remarkably well, and to give them our all than to not do them at all”

    I definitely spread myself too thin but I have gotten much better over the last few years. You advice to work up to single tasking by taking it in small steps, like work without distraction for 10 minutes and then 20 minutes and so on is great advice.

    • Thanks Steve, I totally agree – she’s excellent.

      • Steve and Jonathan, *blush*! Thank you for the compliments. Honestly, all of this comes from knowing so well that spreading myself too thin and doing a hundred things only leads to errors, oversights, and a sadly less than ideal version of what I can deliver. I am so happy the article resonated with you, Steve. Thank you for your comment (and for the Stumble!Like:))!

  8. Topi May 1, 2010 Reply

    Hi Farnoosh and Jonathan,
    You just can’t fake being engaged, and it definitely makes a difference. I’ve had the experience of being in a meeting where I was giving an update on my projects and the person I was reporting to was checking their email! No matter what that person does now, I will never forget that action! If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly and to the exception of everything else. It’s better to make a list and check things off, rather than to try to tackle everything at once! Great post, thanks.
    Topi

    • Topi, I did not even touch on the lack of respect aspect of multi-tasking when someone else is trying to engage you on the current task at hand. I have regretted doing what the person did in your example – and I have promised myself to never disrespect others when they need my attention. Either I say I am busy or I lend them my eyes, ear and attention fully. So glad the post resonated with you and thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  9. There is no question that being fully present and aware is the best option. Unfortunately, I have fallen victim to multi-task-itis. I liked your idea of starting small, then increasing the periods of time for which I concentrate. Starting tomorrow at work :)

    • Farnoosh May 3, 2010 Reply

      Steve, believe me I fall victim all the time. That’s why I feel so strong about it and had to put it into words to make myself (and maybe a few others) to commit to full presence. Good luck at work with the baby steps!

  10. HI Farnoosh,
    Youre everywhere girl! and thats so awesome :)
    As fro this topic…ohh its so me…
    I get bouts of the multitasking bug…now fewer than before. But they do come. And in those bouts…rather at the end of those bouts nothing is completely done! Shocker hmmm…
    Not really..like you said..cause I was not fully present in any of those tasks at hand…how can I do justice to any of them?
    I consciously now make the effort to do one thing at a time…if my monkey jumping naughty mind lets me :) I feed that monkey mind a placebo- “the banana of -nothing else is more important than what you are doing right now!” And it works :)
    Result- now i have fewer windows open on my browser…i remember a time when i used to have nearly 50 windows(yikes!) open…

    Jonathan,
    Awesome awesome awesome guest post !

    Much Love to you both,
    Z~

    • Farnoosh May 3, 2010 Reply

      Zeenat, you made my morning with your enthusiastic comment. “The monkey mind” can probably not be completely silenced but your progress is wonderful (How many windows do you have open now? 30? ;))! Just kidding. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Zeenat and a big hug to you!

  11. J.D. Meier May 3, 2010 Reply

    Good point on #2. I think it’s important to choose what needs to have a higher bar, rather than just make that your default.

    • Farnoosh May 3, 2010 Reply

      J.D., thank you….conscious choice at the beginning is so important. Before I sit down at my Mac, I say outloud “What am I going to work on now?” before I get sucked into all the fun distractions and look to see another hour has gone by…..

  12. Total presence is an amazing thing. Get Eckhart Tolles “The Power of Now” and implement it and it is life changing beyond any time management principles. You totally change.

    • Farnoosh May 3, 2010 Reply

      This is not the first time I hear about Eckhart so I think I’ll look into it. Thank you Richard!

  13. Frank May 19, 2010 Reply

    I find it absolutely amazing how much more I can get accomplished when I give it my
    full attention. By trying to save time by multitasking I have in the past created
    more work for myself by having to correct my mistakes.

    Total Presence is the key.

    • Farnoosh May 20, 2010 Reply

      Tell me about it, Frank. Yesterday alone I wrote not one but two guest posts. I am still amazed by myself!!!
      I am glad you were in agreement with the ideas presented here, thank you for your comment!

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