Learn To Single-Task Again

tolkein-bread-quoteIn 2010, I crashed and burned mentally. The official diagnosis involved adrenal fatigue, and many factors led to my state of exhaustion.

One of the biggest involved having too many commitments and going in too many directions. A constantly-divided focus led to a state of overwhelm and overload.

To recover and heal, I gave up a lot of poor habits and replaced them with healthier ones. That’s the only way to really heal from adrenal fatigue.

One area needing a major overhaul involved my belief in multitasking as an operating system. The Toxic Impact of Multitasking needed eliminated. Its replacement? Learning to single-task again.

The Brain’s Desire

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Our brains want to think deeply and creatively. As any multi-tasker knows, neither is possible with any consistency when your brain tries to focus on a multitude of different tasks at the same time. Instead, we end up reacting to life and living only a surface-level existence.

But, as Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., tells Forbes, with concerted effort…

Anyone can leave the “chaotic addiction of multitasking behind” and see “immediate and immense” benefits as well as an increase in creativity, energy and focus.

I’m living proof of this truth.

Single Tasking Habits

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In addition to recommending adequate rest and exercise, Chapman gives three steps to reestablish single-tasking as a habit.

  1. Give your brain down time. Build in breaks throughout your day, and be sure to take at least a yearly extended break (called a vacation in case it’s been so long you forgot). Like a muscle, our brains need time to rest and recuperate. Ever feel like you make poorer decisions as the day goes on? We must choose to combat Decision Fatigue if we have any hope of not falling prey to its talons of dumb… bad… stupid… decisions.
  2. Focus deeply & eliminate distractions. Just like a person can’t go from couch to 5k instantly, deep focus needs worked up to as well. I certainly recognize that distractions find us all too easily. But with practice, we can develop the ability to focus deeply and attract fewer distractions. The more you reduce multitasking, the more you’ll excel at focusing.
  3. Make a to-do list. A to-do list kept a crash and burn at bay for many years and keeps me from regressing more often still today. Not only a tool to promote focus, a to-do list is also a terrific way to track progress. Remember too that you’ll get better at making and using to-do lists as you perfect what works best for you.

Commit to Change

Make a choice to break your multitasking addiction and instead to work toward a singe-tasking life. Be stubbornly determined to do so. Once the benefits begin, your belief in what Chapman claims and what my own experiences show, will increase.

As with any change, commit to it to make it work. Alter daily habits and admit that the way you’re working now isn’t the best option and that maybe you can trust the example of those who have gone before you on this journey.

Finding Balance in a Busy World, Part I

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“Busy” is the New “Fine”

Many people seem to equate being busy with being important. Somehow, being busy by living in a state of perpetual hustle and bustle and constant exhaustion seems to say, “I matter.” In fact, if you’re not crazy busy, others look at you with resentful longing.

This constant busyness leaves many feeling like they’re running an endless race with an illusive finish line. They feel trapped, but they remain ignorant of why. Being too busy to find balance is simply much easier that doing the hard work of changing.

I remember when most people answered the question, “How are you?” with “Fine.” Now, the pat answers more often than not is “Busy.”

After all, busy is what you’re supposed to be, right? If you’re not busy, you’re probably missing out on something. Or, maybe busyness just keeps boredom at bay. What would you do if you weren’t so busy anyway?

I remember when busyness kept me moving and gave me purpose. Those were the days when my “Busy” answer existed as both a boast and a complaint. I knew I was too busy, yet I didn’t know how else to be considered successful. Then one day I just couldn’t keep up anymore.

My crash and burn forced a choice between doing the hard work to change, to become unbusy, or remaining unhealthy, depressed and miserable. After much searching in the form of doctor visits, counseling sessions, reading, studying and praying, I came to realize that not only did my approach need to change but also my thinking.

In this process of becoming unbusy, the road to balance became increasingly clear. Right action and right thinking — the steps and the path — must partner to create a balanced life.

Stepping Toward Balance

Finding balance is not about establishing the right time-management habits or organizational strategies. After all, none of these will matter if you have too much to manage and organize in the first place.

Finding balance begins with implementing actionable approaches that allow you to do the hard work necessary to become unbusy. For me, that involved three choices that daily direct my steps through the healing process and into a relatively balanced existence.

  1. Ask “Why?” and “What?” These questions serve to get at the root cause. Why do you feel sick all the time? Why can’t you sleep? Why did you say “yes” to that commitment? What keeps you at that job when you hate it? What pushes you to be involved in every activity that comes along? Continually asking “What?” and “Why?” questions can help discover motives at the heart of chronic busyness. They help you understand your life rather than continuing to live from one reaction to the next.
  2. Refuse to quit. Persevere. Keep asking “What?” and “Why?” until you have answers, then ask some more. Dig until an understanding of the root cause emerges. We live in an information age like none ever before us, and the answers are there for those willing to pursue them. You don’t have to live in ignorance of why chronic busyness plagues your life.
  3. Keep taking small steps. Most progress happens in small steps taken gradually over time that add up to make a big difference. Rarely does progress happen in leaps and bounds. Asking “Why?” and “What?” gives the steps to take, and refusing to quit makes taking another step a non-negotiable. Eventually, if you refuse to give up, you’ll look back and realize you’ve left busyness behind and have found balance.

These three approaches kept my actions headed in the right direction. At the same time, I realized that I could take right steps but still head in the wrong direction if I was on the wrong path. So while my choices to find the root cause, not give up and keep taking small steps gave me the motivation to keep moving forward, I also needed to change my thinking in order to make sure I was headed toward balance and not just another version of busyness.

Next week, we’ll explore the principles of balance that create the thinking necessary to leave busyness, overload and overwhelm behind and to achieve and maintain a balanced life.

DISCUSSION: How will you take steps towards a more balanced life today?

Are You Adding to Others Busyness & Overload?

When working to reduce busyness and overload, we tend to focus on our personal schedules. We look at ways to reduce our own “to do” lists. How often do we look at how our actions or inactions create more work and load for others?

Consider the following elements and how they not only impact your own life but how they might be adding to busyness and overload in the lives of the people with whom you work, live, go to church and play.

  1. Exhaustion. Our own busyness and overload adds to what others need to accomplish when we become too exhausted to keep commitments or fail to complete tasks satisfactorily. By continually working to keep busyness and overload in our own lives at bay, by default we reduce those for others as well. More importantly, living in constant fatigue, stress and overload fails to provide a picture of the freedom that Christ died to bring (Galatians 5:1). Instead, we appear trapped in and resigned to living out lives in the realm of too much.
  2. Ineffective Communication. Do you fully listen when someone talks, or do you think about all you have to do or want to say? Are your interactions (face-to-face, email, text, Facebook) uplifting and helpful or filled with confusion?  Develop the habit of truly listening, and learn to communicate effectively. Also, simply learning to Reduce Email Overload and Frustration goes a long way in promoting effective communication. Pick an area of communication and focus on improving there if for no other reason than to ease the stress and overload another person is experiencing.
  3. Drama. Do you constantly tell stories about your busy and stressed life? Are your stories filled with exaggeration that stresses busyness?  Consider that constant drama may be exhausting to others. How long can you go without saying you’re busy? Can you have a conversation without telling a dramatic story of the events that make every moment of your life exhausting? Purpose to not be someone who brags about being too busy and stressed.
  4. Nosiness & Gossip. Often, hearing about the pit others find themselves in makes our own pits not seem so miry. When we talk about others problems, our own don’t seem so bad. While that can give a needed perspective switch, it can also backfire by leading us to feel like change in our own lives isn’t necessary. Consider how projection and magnification might exist in your life to the point of causing you to not see needed change in your own life.
  5. Neediness. Some people just need others to listen to them, and borrowing a friend’s ear certainly has its place and time. Unfortunately, some take this to an extreme and live in a constant state of neediness. Part of refusing to constantly add to others busyness and overload means avoiding being needy and always taking. It means choosing to give, whether by helping in a tangible way or simply by not staying too talk long when the person is obviously busy. Instead, schedule time to vent and talk when both parties can have the mental space to focus.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, Paul gives advice for living that results in respect from others as well as lives that do not put unnecessary burdens on others. His advice? “Live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands.”

A quiet life means a simple life, however you define that, and a simple life comes in small, deliberate steps that add up over time. Not only does a simpler life reduce our own stress, busyness and overload, but it reduces those aspects in the lives of others too. When we are less stressed, busy and not as overloaded, we tend to have the energy to communicate more effectively and to be a source of peace to others, which then allows us and them to progress further along the path to victory over busyness and overload.

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